Rainforest Rundown

The Amazon’s Ancient Wonders,
Current Misery & Its Worst Foes

When Colltales started, seven years ago this Earth Day week, the environmental disaster du jour was BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve survived that, but many species haven’t. Now the still living, breathing, exuberant Amazon Rainforest may be where our next big screwup will take place, as proof that little has changed.
We’re still as likely to discover a Stonehenge-like monument, or 2,000-year old earthworks, or a 3,600-square-mile coral reef where the Amazon meets the Atlantic, as we’re to find that our taste for burgers is killing the jungle, deforestation rates are again on the rise, or that the Brazilian president is actually out to to cash in the forest.
Did we mention the neck-breaking pace of murders of green activists? Or the river of flowing boiling water? Nothing in the Amazon is mild or accommodating; it’s either an explosion of millions of still unknown species, or the soul-crushing wildlife and climate change indifference, shared by many Brazilians.
That’s why scientists fear the worst: not just that we won’t get to learn all that’s there for millennia to be discovered, but that today’s staggering beauty and power of the Rainforest will be reduced to a vast desert of its sandy soil, unprotected by the canopy and terminally exposed to the elements.
It’s ironic, then, that a deranged Brazilian conspiracy theory, dear to xenophobic and fanatics alike, is about some secret society of wealthy individuals, that’s supposedly been working to yank the forest out Brazil’s control and ownership. Suddenly, that prospect seem better than the current reality.

STONEHENGE, GEOGLYPHS & REEFS
Think about indigenous tribes? think again, for it was a cattle ranch foreman who stumbled upon some rocks piled up on a curious position, in what it’s now known as a thousand-year Stonehenge formation, probably built for the same purpose as the one in the U.K. And just as mysterious.
Just like the even older miles of earthworks, geoglyphs as deep as 16 feet and wide as a mile, proving the forest as home to some busybodies centuries before Europeans came to loot it. The discovery opens a new chapter into the history of the Amazon, one that unfortunately we may not get to finish reading.
Nature kept pace with all this human activity, and in unexpected ways too. Where the mighty Amazon reaches the sea, the crash of two powerful forces is long known as the Pororoca. That’s where lies miles of previously undiscovered coral reefs, coated most of the year by the river’s thick mud. Ready for swim?

BURGERS, MINERS & SLAVES
Not so fast. That juicy staple of American cuisine, now massively popular all over the globe, has something else questionable about it, besides being made of slaughtered cows: its smoky, ashy, scorched-earth rainforest sauce. No other way of putting it: cattle in the Amazon was always a bad idea.
But the meat industry is not the only woe helping clearing the forest: mining projects may deliver another blow to the entire region, if environmental regulations are eased as the Brazilian government plans. Even as is, (more)
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World Snatchers

Relax, There’s a Chance It
Will All End Up With a Blast

The danger of normalizing something so terminally outrageous is that it makes us all numb, complacent, vulnerable. Suddenly, yesterday’s inconceivable is today’s inevitable, and what we’ve been resisting against for millennia finally breaks through and flips us all into ashes.
Take meteorites, for instance – what? you thought we were talking about something else? One just zapped by Earth this week and didn’t even make to the front pages. NASA says there may be a couple more with our street address on them, heading our way. What then?
There’s an underfunded agency tracking so-called near Earth objects, sizable enough to cause harm. But size was relative in the dinosaur demise, 65 million years ago. Bigger rocks have hit the planet before and after, with little notice or damage. Luck us.
Still, if the risk is in the angle and substance, not scope or even speed, so be it. Few remember but in 2013, the world was expecting an asteroid to pass at large, when out of the blue, another, unknown, exploded over the skies of Russia. Luck was indeed in the angle.
Call us paranoid but when the eruption of the Vesuvius finally made it to the headlines of the day, it’s likely that the lava was already eating the town by its borders. And even if it caught some overly worried like us in its wake, most of the cautious had already made out of the joint.

THE HARMLESS FLEET & THE UNDETECTED KILLER
The unsettling thing about 2017 FU102, the near-Earth asteroid that zapped by us Sunday, was not that it passed at 0.6 times the mean distance of the Moon, but that it’d been discovered only four days before. Ok, so it was a 10-meter rock, that at the most, would’ve probably smashed a car, if it’d crashed.
But by the same measure of anticipation, had it been a thousand times bigger, even with over a year of advanced notice, there’d still be little for us to do. What, with our current state of affairs, many would’ve likely spent millions trying to prove that it was all NASA’s invention.
At the end of the day, it is the luck of the draw that we haven’t been hit yet. And, to some extent, spending millions trying to come up with a way to divert these civilization killers may not count on many supporters. But the alternative sucks: what to do in the waiting months till the inexorable?

METEOR SHOWERS & THE NEW FIREBALL SEASON
There are many who appreciate regularly scheduled meteor showers, multiple annual night presentations sponsored by nature, going on since before we came into the picture. On the 22nd this month, for example, we’ll have the Lyrid Showers, and who knows what does heaven have in store for us.
But the er big stars of every year is the Perseid, on August, the November Leonid, and the Geminid in December. There are more, some not big enough to have a name. By all accounts, showers are benign and entertaining, when it doesn’t rain, of course. Kids love them, perhaps because they happen late in the evening.
Another thing altogether is dealing with the term Fireball Season, possibly coined by H.R. MacMillan Space Centre astronomer Derek Kief. One can’t help it but to fear the implicit ominousness of such (more)
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Stay Awake

Top Reasons to Have
Nightmares in October

Despite all fake blood and make-believe spooks, plus the prospect of wholesome fun at movies and parties, the only dread still linked to Halloween is the obscene bite U.S. retailers snack out of it. So, at the intersection of what’s left of a pagan ritual, and the irony of grownups dressed up as bloodsuckers, here’s our own fright list.
True, nothing to bury you alive, or squeeze your sphincter to the point of constipation. Just five anxiety-driving reasons to refill your meds, and toss and turn all night in bed. You know, the usual suspects: fears about the future, or the past, or the future turning into the past, and, of course, crawling creatures and robots.
Now, the ability of some to still be scared means that somehow they care. And not many of us carry the burden of giving anything two flying er schmucks. But for those who do, sorry about the cliché but be afraid, be very afraid. Thus, this abridged inventory for the sake of offering anyone a warning shot about what may lie ahead. Consider yourself warned.
It may serve other purposes as well. Feel free to design a costume based on it, shocking enough to impress jaded friends and floor that cute Michael Meyers who struck your fancy at last year’s parade. In the process, you may exorcise that nasty heartburn. Just add spark and pointed teeth and voilá: even bad news take a break, sometimes.

cincoWE’RE IN THIS MATRIX, YOU SEE
Leave it to Wall Street to create new distractions, so while we get busy on social media, banksters subtract yet another dime from our future. But Bank of America Merrill Lynch may have broken new ground, even to seasoned con artists like, well, not us. It’s about the Matrix, you know?
In a note to clients, the bank that was found liable for mortgage fraud and paid in 2013 a $1.27 billion fine (in a government ruling since overturned), pompously warns that ‘It’s conceivable that (…) future civilizations could have decided to run a simulation of their ancestors,’ which means you, Keanu Reeves, and everyone else.
We’ve heard that before, of course, which makes one wonder, hey, where did I leave my wallet? For, while BoA, and every deranged preacher you never heard of, may be flashing their cards for our attention, about a future only they know about, it’s simply common sense to swoosh your cape and walk away, just in case.

quatroTHE EVIL THAT (MADEUP) MAN DO
You know that one: a lot of people are afraid of clowns, so why not start a crazy clown wave, with blurry video and threats to little children, just so we’re all on the same page? It’s on everywhere, and in the minds of publicity hounds, who’re smacking their heads, thinking, why haven’t I come up with such genius idea?
Hold on to your big shoes, Bozos, it’s all a fad. And the backlash is already apace, with mobs chasing down recovery pervs just because they’ve got the wrong shade of orange hair. Oh, sorry, that was a Trump rally. Nevertheless. Let’s keep an eye on those whose appearance is no cause for alarm, instead.
Or get rid of this paranoid mania, disseminated by not so clueless officials, that if you see something, you should tell on them to your local war weaponry-equipped Squad team, even if you have no proof of wrongdoing, or are out to get your poor Uncle Bob. That doesn’t mean your kids should like clowns again. Are you crazy? they’re creepy.

tresIT’S HAIRY, CRAWLS & CAN HEAR YOU
This is arguably the most frequent character in people’s nightmares, so it’s no wonder that every October there are some kind of unbearably frightening news about them. For if cats rule the Internet, spiders reign over everyone’s worst possible scenario. But until now, we were not supposed to shush in their presence too.
A new study found that spiders have an acute sense of hearing, and do hear you talking trash about them from across the room. So much for ears: they don’t have them. Still, you can hardly, if ever, hear them back. Until, of course, it’s too late, you’re covered with them, and… STOP!
They’re actually wonderfully creatures, crawling on this earth for some 380 million years. They nurture their young and occasionally eat their mates, but hey, who’ll miss them anyway? (more)
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Head & Tails

Who Is the Mad Dog 
Murdering English Cats?

Maybe it’s Internet envy. You know, people who hate you just because you’re all over the Web. And your name is Justin Bieber. The culprit is unlikely to be among cat’s biggest enemies (no, not dogs): bird lovers. But watch out: the U.K. has a serial kitty killer on the prowl.
Nothing cute about it, though. Someone is beheading cats in the South London Croydon neighborhood, and police has no clues, other than the killings are gruesome and ostensible: the psycho leaves mutilated bodies where their human companions can easily come across them.
Again, it may have to do with Internet access and its magnifying effect. For justAtop a Mountain, in Calp, Spain (Aleksandr Osipov:NatGeo)a few decades ago, serial killers were known mostly by law enforcement agents. Now, you need to ask your Uncle Bob to please, shut up already, when he babbles about them as if they were his pub buddies.
Their creepy habits, pathology, and biographies are a constant theme of family dinner conversations, and inspiration to countless movie plots; best seller books and even songs have been written about them, and everybody seems to have heard of that lonely soul who married one in jail.
That’s how most of us know of a particularly haunting trait they all seem to share: an early childhood taste for torturing and murdering small animals. Thus, the British press, not particularly known for nuanced coverage, sobriquet for the newest psychopath: Croydon Cat Ripper.

BLOOD SPREADING OR COPYCATS?
Cats have attracted extreme passion or fear throughout history, and the overstatement needs no emphasis. From ancient Egyptian adoration to Dark Ages‘ obscurantism to redemption through the Black Plague, the domestic feline trajectory with humans has been as vertigo-inducing as a roller coaster.
But once clichés are set aside, a richer picture emerge, of a creature with a rare appeal, both aloof and Zen-like tempered; independent, suffused with mystery, and yet, resolutely loyal to those who (more)
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Thinking With Tentacles

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

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

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

DEEP SONGS & ACCENTED CLICKS
Since at least the 1970s, news about whales is always surprising, even as their numbers keeping receding towards extinction. The size of their brains, rich social lives, their songs, complex and uniquely identified with their pods. And then there’s the loneliest of them all.
The fact that research into these massive but elusive species has reached such a level of sophistication is, in itself, (more)
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Slippery & Walkable

The Banana Comic Hour
& a Cabbage Walking Tour

Only bananas to elicit such an immediate, jocose reaction from us. From shape to content, it’s not even a fruit, but a berry that comes with its own signature visual gag: someone slipping on a peel. A soul that hasn’t laughed at a butt being splashed on the floor is yet to be born.
The cabbage, on the other, still odorous side, is about foods not fit for dessert. Dieting, intestinal functions, and the sober, stark Irish and Eastern European cuisines are its realm, and it has thrived for centuries as a tool for parental torture of their crying, spoiled-rot tots.
And yet, for all its sensual pleasures, banana was central to colonial wars, even if slaves and marauders wouldn’t recognize it today: we now favor Cavendish, a seedless, sterile clone. But all is forgiven if that cream pie lives up to its billing.
As for the hardy cabbage, it may be bitter like a prescription, but its color palette is unmatched. Sure, it’s resilient, and it’ll remain fibrous after hours of boiling. It won’t apologize when others veggies wilt, and yet, some would take it for a walk, but we’ll get there before soup.
It may seem in bad taste to talk about food in a week like that. At least insensitive, some would say, to write about edibles and not mention Belgium waffles. But both bananas and cabbages beat any coward massacre, as the one we’re unfortunately forced to endure and grieve.
But what’s better than a hearty meal and a succulent shake? Cooking with compassion will always beat terror, let alone hunger. Rather than war, we’d serve bananas and cabbage to those suffering in Brussels. Here’s to your honor; may this meal lift your spirits.

TROPICAL RACE & THE PEEL SPIEL
The world eats more mangoes, but bananas have a more nuanced if brutal history: the rampage of Europeans and Americans to ransack Latin American nations, and the few politically-charged, and blatantly racist expressions to match: monkey business, banana republic, etc. And never forget those excessive plantains.
Its popularity growing, bananas may have climate change as a formidable adversary, and all sorts of fungi remain a constant threat. Some fear extinction, but while that doesn’t happen, we’re surely the big banana here, so don’t ever call us Berry.
Celebrity came with Andy Warhol, public demand brought it to Iceland, but monkeys were always the ones to better peel a banana. By the way, (more)
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First Ladies

Little-Known Great Women
Who Challenged the World

A Brit who wrote the first book in English and an Italian grand master; 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, 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, short lists 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. Short lists help leaving them out, or yours would be certainly here. It also beats having to rewrite so many well-known bios.

THE MYSTIC WRITER & THE PROTO-FEMINIST PAINTER
On its way to world domination, 14th century England struggled to survive the wreckage of the Dark Ages. The pestilence and ravaging left on its wake was cause for 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 grand master.
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, equalled that of established painters, such a Caravaggio, with whom she’s often linked.

THE CROSS-DRESSED SAILOR & THE WORLD CYCLIST
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)
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