Hallowed Ground

Poe’s Bronx Cottage &
Houdini’s Queens Grave

Perhaps no other two public figures are more intrinsically connected with Halloween than Harry Houdini and Edgar Allan Poe. Fittingly, there seem to be always fresh new stories about them too.
Houdini, who died 94 years ago tomorrow, famously promised to give us a sign, proving there’s life after death. We’re still waiting.
And Poe, who preceded him to the great beyond by 77 years, will be forever attached to tales of the macabre, even though his claim to literary immortality comes from his detective stories.
Hungarian-born Houdini, escape-artist extraordinaire with a Freudian relationship with his mother, was skeptical about the supernatural but inspired a generation of then-called occultists.
Poe, who was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore was a true believer in the afterlife, but actually became associated with that most rigorous of law-enforcement sciences: forensics.
Lastly, both will be forever connected to New York, by the way of Queens and The Bronx, despite having come from (more)
Read Also
* A Halloween Tale
* Heard That?
* Happy Halloweeners

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Witching Hour Is Upon Us, Colltalers

Many Americans haven’t been sleeping well lately. Some worry about Nov. 3; others about how early voting is beating records across the land. Those concerned about that were sure their anti-democratic efforts to prevent people from voting had been successful. They may be up to a rude awakening.
Yet it’s Covid-19’s record of 83,000 cases in a day that the majority is rightfully scared about. Or an FBI report confirming foreign interference in the elections. On the other hand, most people support an antitrust lawsuit against Google. And others are celebrating the United Nations’ 75th anniversary.
Other issues worrying folks everywhere are climate change-driven wildfires, rising sea levels-boosted coastal flooding, and pandemic-aggravated hunger. In this particular, there’s Brazil, ironically one of the world’s four-largest food producers. In fact, with the U.S. and India, it also shares the top spot of coronavirus-infected countries. Combined, these countries have less than two billion people but over half of the 43 million cases worldwide.
What’s behind the stats however is the brutality of income inequality and our insatiable war machines. Although food insecurity and starvation are old foes of poor Indians and Brazilians, there are more Americans in similar dire straits now than the 35 million with nothing to eat for most of last year.
Colombia’s indigenous peoples took the streets of Bogotá to protest the methodic extermination of natives and environmental activists that’s reaching a fever pitch in the country. Four years since an agreement with leftist guerillas, it’s now right-wing paramilitary groups that are crushing their dreams of peace and stability. More than 230 civic leaders have been killed this year, often in mass executions, to little or no action by President Iván Duque.
Still in South America, an E.U.’s trade accord with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, would boost meat and ethanol imports to Europe, and machinery, chemicals, and drugs to the Mercosur countries. But it’d also be bad news for the Amazon forest, which in case you’re wondering, is still burning. Continue reading

Grace Under Rain

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, a.k.a. Pelé, becomes 80 today. Still considered soccer’s G-O-A-T, his popularity is intact after half a century of retirement. Despite his difficult relationship with Brazil, he helped it win three out of five World Cups, the most of any other.
A wee lad in the 1960s, I’ve experienced his magic and seized the memory as one of my most precious. As his celebrated Santos played my Grêmio, I understood what means to embody the dreams of an entire nation with the grace of a generous king.  

As he walked off the field, crowd jeers turned into cheers. He held his head down until they grew louder to grant us his royal smile. It took him only a second for all of us to become his.

Pelé, football’s greatest player, had come to town to play my team. But by the end of the first half, there was no memorable greatness to report. It was just another league game, after all; rough skirmishes in the mud and a cold and unforgiving winter to boot. That night though there was also a shining knight among us. And he acted the part with aplomb.
Sports fans are rude, raw, and irrational the world over. Crude emotions are always at the ready but civility is usually checked at the turnstiles. Just like at the Colosseum: Christians and pagans crowded the pitch but to the beasts belongs the hour.
The birthplace of  ‘jogo bonito‘ is no haven away from this world of unbounded brutality. The exquisite touch of skills, the artistry with the ball are reflected on the Mondo Cane sensibility at the bleaches, the cursing, the unholy screams, and every obscene gesture to match.
Let’s not get into the urine-bag throwing at random, the foul-smelling bathrooms, the fights that break at chance between rivaling factions. And the slurs throw at women, let’s just not go there.
In such a freezing and wet Wednesday, as only a place that close to Antarctica can be, 30,000 or so of us were braving elements and odds but for a glimpse of a special player, to whom songs, and toasts, and accolades are still being raised.
Chanting our undying commitment to follow our blue team ‘barefoot if necessary,’ as its Anthem promises, that’s where we were at that very night. And for a chance to see how memories are built to last.
Ours was the no-nonsense team, whose physical game had almost no room for finesse. We’d kick the ball and the opponent with gusto, and if we’d sneak an offensive play, it’d usually be like a cannon aimed at the other end of the field. All fancy schmancy and flair had no place in the squad.
It was 1969 and Pelé had already won two world championships with the national team. By then though, he was close to retirement, his great glory days left smashed in the grass of England three years earlier. For all it counted, he had nothing else to prove and a lot of reasons to just fade away.
No one knew then that a year later, he’d rise and enchant the world all over again. Football is a game for the minute. All else (more)
Read Also:
* Pelé At 70
* National Tragedy
* Don Diego de La Argentina
Continue reading

Marble & Heavenly Bodies

Michelangelo’s Grocery
List & the Finger of Galileo

What if future generations would wind up knowing famous people not for what we celebrate them for, but for something entirely unexpected? What if, in the big scheme, that’s what’s all about, or rather, how would you like to be known a century from now?
Michelangelo Buonarroti and Galileo Galilei, whose mastery of arts and sciences summarizes much of mankind’s greatness, may be safe from such a vexing fate. Nevertheless, recent news about them did make us wonder, over 400 years after their time.
In 2014, Illinois-based weapons maker ArmaLite had an awful idea: to outfit Michelangelo‘s masterpiece David with an assault rifle, committing not just an act of vandalism for profit, but also insulting four centuries of enlightenment to transcend our destructive nature.
Almost as offensive to any human who’s ever contemplated in awe the universe, let alone Galileo‘s memory, was a National Science Foundation study, that found that one in four Americans, or some 80 million of us, simply doesn’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun.

It’s very likely that both ArmaLite and those millions of our fellow voters remain unaware that Michelangelo died over 456 years ago, only three days after Galileo was born, both in the same region known today as Italy. Or even what greatness we’re talking about here.
After all, it’s really a coincidence that they were joined by such a happenstance of date and place. But it’s no casual fact that they both defined their age and set the standards to all others that followed it, in ways that still resonate with our world today.
And it’s a bit petty to castigate people for caring little whether Michelangelo‘s art makes us a bit more deserving of the wonders of our own time, or that Galileo‘s telescope introduced us to the stars, from which we inherited the dust that makes up our bodies.
But times, alas, are barely open to wonders, enigmas, or marvels of the physical world. While the Renaissance bred so many geniuses and they, in return, doted us with their indelible foresight and imagination, we got used to ignoring every star above us, as the song goes.
We’re content to juxtapose the sublime with the abhorrent, like David with a gun, and relish on the comfort of long-debunked beliefs, (more)
Read Also:
* On This Day
* Renaissance Faire
* F For Fade

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Sixteen Days to Reality, Colltalers

2020 could end now and still be one of the deadliest. Over a million Covid-19 deaths worldwide, a savage rise of hunger and dispossession, wildfires, climate change-driven superstorms, Democracy at risk, we thought we were done. But no, not until a religious zealotry murder had been committed.
Thousands of women marching over the weekend though offered a powerful counternarrative to the criminal negligence, hate incitement, and sheer malfeasance coming out of the White House lately. Paraphrasing Lincoln, another past, way more dignified occupant, they can’t fool us all, all the time.
It’s great to see a mass mobilization of women at such a crucial juncture. Given that the issue of reproductive rights has just landed at the core of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, any progressive change in the status quo has to necessarily go through how mankind treats half of the population.
But to be fair, women are already protesting in Belarus, France, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, and their fight against corruption, domestic violence, for equal pay, racial justice, and yes, the right to safe, legal abortion, is one with the rest of society. For patriarchy can no longer deliver us our future.
Thus the significance of the re-election by a landslide of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Domestically, it was her outstanding leadership that neutralized the pandemic and kept Kiwi casualties to only five. But even before she’d already become Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Tainted As Sick Folk, Colltalers

It’s disturbing how President Trump’s knowingly contaminating supporters and cabinet members with the coronavirus. It’s execrable he’s spreading it to the press corps and White House staffers too. But it’s downright despicable that the GOP and those invested in his reelection remain oblivious to it all.
A domestic far-right terrorist plot caught by the FBI, to kidnap and harm a sitting governor, or 220,000 American lives lost on the president’s watch are not of their concern. Although history is never kind to lack of moral compass, sycophants and enemies of democracy are seldomly bothered about that.
We begin in Guatemala our news roundup with the calls for justice for Laura Daniela Hernández and Litzy Cordón, kidnapped and murdered a week apart from each other. 350 women are estimated to have been victims of femicide so far this year. Defined as ‘a sex-based hate crime,’ the term coined by author Diana E. H. Russell in 1976 identifies one of the most serious consequences of domestic abuse, which is rising throughout Latin America.
Why Do They Want To Kill Us?‘ The Amnesty report published last week is about the murder of activists in Colombia and the lack of action by the government. Some 223 social leaders Continue reading

Dear John

 No need to rewrite this post, published six years ago today. Its outdated references albeit encrusted, don't touch the meaning. New York City was then ignited by mass rallies demanding action against the climate emergency. As it still must be today and in a month. A few weeks before, passing by The Dakota I thought I saw you in the window, looking happy with your family. It could've seen that the revolution you'd dreamed about - even as being always ambivalent about it as anyone - had come to pay its respects. On that eve of Oct. 9, it'd all come into full-circle but like your life, it didn't last. The streets are now empty and our hearts, broken. Where are the ready-to-battle youthful multitudes who wanted so much a few years ago and now when most badly needed, they falter? The pull must be even stronger for all that push forward built up in 2014 didn't make it to the 2016 ballot. In a month, that battle becomes final. Maybe the grace and power of your comeback then, of your final 60 days on this planet, will rub off on us and we get us the reckoning we need, another time to dawn in a half that time. We'll still be devastated at the end of that last leg, something we're fated to feel it happening over and over, between the 10/9 and the 12/8. But we'll have new dreams to pursue together and new reasons to really give peace a chance.

You Are Me &
We’re All Together

The other day, when 400,000 people marched in front of your New York City home, I couldn’t help it but think how much you would’ve enjoyed seeing so many taking the streets for a cause – this time to fight Climate Change – just like you, marching against the war.
It also helped that it was the International Peace Day, but what was particularly poignant about Sept. 21st was to realize that many in the crowd had probably been there before, on a cold December night of 1980, to mourn your assassination on the steps of The Dakota.
You would’ve been 74 today, and almost certainly, equally as engaged in progressive causes as you were some forty years ago. And that’s what makes us so sad, that we can no longer hear your voice, and how much the crowd misses the guidance of people like you, and Pete Seeger, to name a like-minded artist.
The fact is, even at that time, such head-first dive into political activism and explicit protesting was not what many musicians considered the best way to go about seeking change. Bob Dylan comes to mind as another influential star who, like many of your contemporaries, was just not into singing songs, carrying slogans, and parading for peace.
But while they may have been a tad too concerned about the impact that an explicit anti-establishment attitude would’ve had on their careers, you were simply not in the same level of showbiz calculation. To you, it seemed only natural to be part of what the people in the streets were protesting about, warts and criticism notwithstanding.

And there were a lot of put-downs about your over-exposure to the media, your peace and bed-in campaigns, your stunts which, to a small segment of the intelligentsia, were perceived as opportunistic and self-promoting. Never mind that your efforts, as off-the-kilt as they were, became somewhat effective.
In perspective, all that fiery anti-war poster and newspaper ad placing, your tireless advocating and support of people such as Angela Davis, John Sinclair, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and others, are now an inextricably part of the historical record about mass movements that helped put an end to the Vietnam War.
You should’ve seen how many young, high-school kids were there too, possibly making that beautiful Sunday (more)

Read Also
* You Once Belonged
* Newspaper Taxis

Continue reading

John & Poe

October & the City Link
the Walrus & the Raven

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

Continue reading

Every Man

Nobody Told Us That There
Would Be Days Like These

Some of us will complete Friday the four decades separating us from John Lennon’s last birthday, on Oct. 9, 1980. His life had been so intense up to that day that the same length of time following it seems now warped and emptier in comparison.
In his last two months, the man was full of hope, ready for a comeback that’d be only partially realized. Whether his best work was really behind him there’s no way of knowing, but since then, we’ve been badly missing whatever was that only he could’ve delivered.
And he has indeed given us plenty, enough to keep us busy going over it even now, so many years later. Just like a post we’ve published about a particular moment in 1967, documenting what wouldn’t have had any imprint on all of us hadn’t been for him.
Like another way of marking a date that still holds us under its spell. Even without knowing that the next two months were his final countdown, John lived his life with the intensity that only those who know they’ve got just this one chance to do it, really do it.
He’d have been 76, that time around. Instead, he’ll never age a day older than 40. Amazing to learn that many born since then consider him a friend, and his songs, a guide to living intensely and grow wiser. Happy Birthday, John. Thanks for everything.
(*) Originally published on Oct. 6, 2016.

Curtain Raiser

No Karma. Simply Reality, Colltalers

So Trump caught Covid-19, a ‘fake’ virus that’s nevertheless killed over 200 thousand Americans and is nearly lodging 40 million cases worldwide. To say that chickens have come to roost doesn’t do justice to the irony of this cataclysmic event. Now the presidential election is officially up for grabs.
Suddenly all world headlines are locked below yet another stunt by the U.S. President. To the media, the galloping resurgence of coronavirus cases, the Amazon on fire, mass protests in Israel and Mexico, an armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, all pale in comparison. Except that it doesn’t.
Thousands took the Israeli streets over the weekend calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. One of Trump’s staunchest supporters, he’s been indicted for bribery, corruption, and breach of trust, but that may not be the rallies’ main reason. Some say there’s anger at surveillance tools used during the virus lockdown, which is being reinstated, that’s made citizens face tough measures long associated with the suppression of Palestinians.
Mexico’s President López Obrador is facing criticism from both civil and women’s rights organizations, for his failure to curb the Covid’s rise, now at almost 800,000, and apathy towards rampant femicides in the country, and by the Chihuahua, the state bordering New Mexico. The president accuses opposition governor Javier Corral of denying by political reasons, to send water to the U.S., as dictated by terms of a little known 1944 bilateral treaty.
And Facebook, which is not a country but has a budget larger than many, has again blocked environmental and social justice groups, this time for an online event against the Coastal GasLink Continue reading

First Ladies

Little-Known Great Women
Who Challenged the World

A Brit who wrote the first book in English and an Italian grandmaster; a sailor disguised as a man and a round-the-world biker; a war photographer and the first female in space. Ground-breaking pioneers, these women beat the odds and inspired mankind.
Julian and Artemísia, Hannah and Annie, Dickie and Valentina, forged a new identity for women everywhere, one that’s often been at odds with male-dominated institutions, and that only modern age could fully embrace. These were no tamed spirits.
Along the way, the mastery of intellect and mysticism, of great art and entrepreneurship, became one with what all that came after. Each generation that followed had more of their independence of thought, the courage to report, and dare to reach for the stars.
These were no followers either. What each carved on the fabric of their own age still stands now, be it as a spiritual path or pictorial record, a skill for subversion or example of non-conformity, the capture of the battlefield or a flight into the future.
But only six, you may ask, and why them, instead of, say, the other few billion? Well, shortlists keep things moving: room only for names, times, and the life that defined their accomplishments. Ultimately, though, it’s our choice and we’re running with it.
That won’t settle the argument, but hope for a first female U.S. president got a boost Tuesday, and next week is International Women’s Day. Both fitting brackets for a possible breakthrough year in equality, a battle these women fought and won, so now we know their names.
Great humans create entire epochs around their existence, not always acknowledged in time. Many would enlist their own mothers on this roll. Shortlists help to leave them out, or yours would be certainly here. It also beats having to rewrite so many well-known bios.

On its way to world domination, 14th century England struggled to survive the wreckage of the Dark Ages. The pestilence and ravaging left in its wake were the cause of much soul searching and exacerbated religiosity. Times were ripe for Julian of Norwich.
After surviving illness, she walked out of public life to become a religious recluse, an anchorite, living her remaining years in closed quarters to ‘speak with god’ full time. While others like her burned at a stake, Her Revelations of Divine Love is considered the first female-penned, English-language book.
Two hundred years after, Rome was at the center of the art and religious world, and artists were busy carving their reputations through the glorious Baroque style. Most were male, but Artemisia Gentileschi would defy gender conventions, even as she was long gone when she was recognized as a grandmaster.
Raped by her tutor, who her family successfully sued – not without enormous public shaming of Artemisia, during the trial – she became a rare female working artist whose talent, and tumultuous relationships, equaled that of established painters, such a Caravaggio, with whom she’s often linked.

There were few options for a woman to sail the world in the 18th century, and to become a soldier of the Royal Marines was hardly one of them. Hanna Snell managed to do both, even as she concealed her gender under the alias James Gray; heaven knows how she survived those long stretches at sea.
Remarkably, her bravery granted her full military pension, and her story, The Female Soldier, made her into a minor celebrity, no small feats for a woman at the time. Till the end, despite three (more)
Read Also:
* Beautiful Bandit
* Women’s Day
* Sunken Ships
Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A High Turnout Beats All Lies, Colltalers

Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat at the Supreme Court all but assures two things: the court’s conservative majority for years to come, and the urgent need for its reform. Critics say too that the Obamacare and Roe v Wade rulings now top an endangered list.
It may be worse if the Nov. 3 election is contested and that new majority keeps Trump in power, even if he loses again the popular vote. In these 36 days left, Americans who want to pick a new president must go back to basics: the battle cry now is, break all voting records, win to leave no doubts.
There are indeed few doubts about certain things. Covid-19 will still be rising from the current 33 million-plus cases worldwide, and so will the U.S.’s ‘leadership’ position, after adding a million cases in less than a month, to over seven million. No safe vaccine will be ready before at least six months, no matter how much the administration lies about it, and by then, if there’s no change in Washington, its interest in the cure will be greatly diminished.
Another pattern that emerged early on was that the ranking for most cases and fatalities is headed by nations whose democracy is under siege: the U.S., Brazil, India, and Russia. That is, calling them ‘democracies’ may soon become inappropriate. For obviously, the more economies reopen and public spaces are filled with unconcerned people, the higher will be the contagion rates. Some see the coronavirus becoming endemic just like the annual flu.
But it’s not just that most viruses take time to be studied in-depth and for vaccines and therapies to be safely developed; it’s also for the scandalous U.S. response to the virus, which could’ve inspired the world but rather treated it as a tool for political gain. Continue reading

Getting There

The Dying Art
of Passing Away

There are people who dream about impossible places they’d like to go to when they die. We too imagine someday resting in an improbable place: the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. But just so we’re clear about it, we said ‘someday,’ not now, or tomorrow, well, who knows? In any case, once we cross that threshold, we won’t give a damn.
However, even if you do, you may be still out of luck: some places have the inconvenient rule of forbidding people from dying there. Either because your wasteful body may ruin the environment, or climate won’t decompose it, or perhaps because they just don’t like you. So your choice may be as well to remain alive. Or almost, like the walking dead of Toraja. Good luck keeping your friends close, though.
As for us, we’ll never understand this drive to stay alive at all costs. Doesn’t anyone realize how everything became incredibly expensive? Besides, who wants to last longer than our loved ones? In other words, we’re fine with the expiration date that’s part of the deal of living. Oh, and we don’t need to know the day or the way either.
About those places people imagine will be throwing a red carpet, or rather, a fluffy, white-cloud rug, and a welcoming party, we’re not so sure. It’s kind of taxing to start picturing a whole new set of realities to be faced after however long we’ll spend struggling to make sense of what’s around here. Very distracting.
But so you don’t think we’re knocking anyone’s beliefs, let’s suppose that it’d all be exactly as it is in this presumable afterlife? Why would nature go to such an extent to go after each and every one of us with everything it’s got only to let it all to continue as before just under different circumstances, then what? Oh, never mind.

In Japan, there’s an island, Itsukushima, that’s considered so sacred that they don’t want no stinking likes of you there. That is, they’ll put up if you’re still talking, and especially, walking. But go drop dead somewhere else. In fact, since 1878, no one was born or has died there, and they may kill you for even trying it.
The enforcers are a group of otherwise pious priests, who spend the days in prayer at the island’s holy shrine. But all hell may break loose at even a sight of a pregnant woman, an elderly person, or someone who’s terminally ill, although it’s not clear how would they know it. It all started with the Battle of Miyajima in 1555, after which all bodies were immediately removed from the island and the spilled blood was either cleaned or disposed of. Yeah, that kind of piety has been going on for over 400 years, just so you know.
Not so strict but still a difficult place to die at is Longyearbyen in Norway. No priests are banning the dead there, though, just the weather, still cold enough to preserve bodies indefinitely. People buried a century ago look like they’ve just fallen asleep. Which, let’s face it, it’s kind of creepy. Yes, that’s changing due to the climate emergency but just in case, get the hell away from there, fast. One never knows.
Two other places prohibit people from dying there by decree. Both (more)
Read Also:
* Dead Can Dance
* A Life, Abridged
* Ashes & Dirt

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Real Change Comes at a Cost, Colltalers

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg won many women’s rights battles in her life. In the past years, she became a leading dissenter at the Supreme Court and a hero for her progressive stands. She beat cancer too. But not even her could’ve pulled this one off: when the time came, she crossed it like a champion.
Her death may’ve upended the election – and vaporized Joe Biden’s polling numbers. It’s also topped the week’s other staggering news, from revelations that the U.S. immigration agency forced hysterectomies on asylum seekers, to seven million Americans sick of Covid-19, or climate-change wildfires.
The superstition-inclined sees the ongoing mass die-off of migratory birds across the U.S. and Mexico as an omen for what’s coming. Theories abound but there’s no clear scientific answer to what’s going on. Maybe they took off too early, or maybe it was the wildfires. It’s quite a sight to suddenly see a bird drop lifelessly from the sky, but it does happen. On a related plea, can we be done with the weirdness and heartbreak of this year already? Thanks.
As for the coronavirus, it’s still doing its thing: it passed the 30 million worldwide mark, and daily cases are still on the rise in many countries. Worse, there are unfounded expectations that a vaccine will suddenly deliver us from this scourge. As with most things these days, from rallies ‘for freedom’ against lockdowns to mostly American skirmishes of people refusing to wear masks, it’s all pre-fab and its purpose is to instill confusion and fear.
That’s Trump’s strategy to win. So perhaps getting as many people to vote as to take it to the streets and protest may be the perfect counter-strategy. He wants the chaos that may frighten his base into voting for him; but when the unrest is for racial and social equality, for dignity to dissent and freedom to protest, if it’s all to fulfill citizens’ constitutional right to choose their own leaders, then be it. We’ll be out there too, at the pavement and at the polls.
Speaking of it, Italians are choosing regional representatives today, but the biggest draw is a referendum on whether Continue reading

Looking at You, Kid

The Mystery, Half-Truths &
Misperceptions About Mirrors

If you’re not blind, and there’s nothing neurologically odd with you, how do you know how your face looks like? Your best bet would be using a mirror, right? Well, not quite.
In fact, it’s likely that the image you see in front of you is an emotional, highly-subjective composite of what you think you should look like. In that, mirrors are devilishly deceiving.
For what it’s worth, though, your educated guess is still closer to the truth than anyone else’s. Alas, no one is free from emotional biases when looking at somebody else’s likeness.
In other words, truth doesn’t usually belong in the same sentence with the word mirror. That’s because what you see is an interpretation, yours, of what is supposed to be on the other side.
As you scrutinize that reflection, everything seems to reproduce the side of things that’s surrounding you. And yet, crucial details fool and elude you once and again.
As many mystics have said about the world itself, one may describe and list the inventory of things it contains, and still fail to define it. In the case of mirrors, odds get freaky really fast.
That can be triggered at a first glance by checking one of its supposed qualities: its ability to ‘mirror’ the physical world. For, after your hand suddenly switches to the left, things only unravel even further.
You may understand perfectly how is that so and still be baffled by it. Other oddities, sitting on the outer edge of common perception, may also catch your eye. But nothing compares with the view of your own face.
That’s when we’re more susceptible to inaccuracies of judgment about what we’re seeing, as the brain works overtime to concur pre-determined notions with what’s right ahead.

Scientists now think that what distinguishes animals who are capable of recognizing themselves in a mirror from others, who’re indifferent to it, may be their social lives.
Thus apes, dolphins, and Asian elephants, all living within sophisticated social groups and well aware of their own position in them, are able to watch and check their bodies in front of the mirror the way humans do.
But, since we’re way more complicated, albeit not always more intelligent, we often get spooked at the realization that what we’re seeing may not be completely accurate, even when our brains are not addled by anything.
So much for all that ‘eyes are the mirrors of the soul’ business. More like smoke and mirrors, if you ask psychologists, who keep finding new ways to show how we seem to suspend rationality when looking at ourselves.
Take the so-called Venus effect, for example. Its origin dates back from ancient depictions of the Roman goddess of love, thus Rokeby Venus by Velazquez, who depicted her with a mirror in her hand.
At first, and for countless internalized ‘conclusions’ thereafter, people tend to believe that Venus is looking at herself, which would be virtually impossible given the angle of the mirror.
The precision and vivid accuracy of the Dutch grandmaster Johannes Vermeer‘s paintings have astonished and intrigued scientists and art lovers alike for three centuries. But it was only recently that architect Philip Steadman published his findings about the artist’s likely secret (besides his genius): he may have used a mirror device.
Software designer Tim Jenison went further and created the contraption. Not just that, he taught himself to paint (and to speak Dutch) and use it to create an impressive reproduction of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. The duo of magicians Penn & Teller shot a documentary on it. It all seemed to make sense but many didn’t buy it.

Clever movie directors have only preserved this illusion by showing an actor, say, Robert de Niro, in that famous ‘Taxi Driver’ scene, in front of the mirror. In that, as in most cases, he’s either looking at the camera, or to a corner of it, but unlike to be ‘facing’ himself.
Since placing lenses directly behind the scene would ruin the take, cameras with a set of, you guessed, mirrors inside, are used these days, to allow a sideways view of both the actor and his image.
Art of course has long traded on the concept of the mirror as a foreign land, laden with mystery and otherness. In Jean Cocteau’s film version of the myth of Orpheus & Eurydice, the character of Jean Marais actually penetrates one to rescue his lover from the depths of Hades.
Arguably, Rene Magritte‘s most celebrated painting is La Reproduction Interdite, but some forget he actually has a work named (more)
Read Also:
* The Way We Look
* Suspended Animation
* Seeing Through

Continue reading

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.
Read Also:
* 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)

Read Also:
* Man Made
* Tomorrow Never Knows
* Second Variety

Continue reading

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)
Read Also:
* The Standards
* Shh… Hear That?
* Newspaper Taxis

Continue reading

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)
Read Also:
* Nasty People
* Out to Get You
* Faulty Towers
* Worse Than Thou

Continue reading

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)
Read Also:
* Bloody Throes
* Nukes for Nuts
* Nuking the Future

Continue reading

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
Continue reading

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)
Read Also:
* Before Afterlife
* Final Cut
* Out to Get You

Continue reading

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)
Read Also:
* Wash Up
* Downtime
* At Bat

Continue reading

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)
Read Also:
* Mutants & Chimaeras
* Tough Crowd
* Suddenly Last Caturday

Continue reading

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)
Read Also:
* Butt Tally
* Skimmed Vacations
* Street Smarts
Continue reading

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)
Read Also:
* Last Call
* Last Supper
* Out to Get You

Continue reading