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 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.
THE MESMERIC & THE MAUDIT
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
* Hallowed Ground
* Life W/O Lennon
Continue reading

Pregnant Times

A Pi for Einstein
& Marielle Franco

Three important dates are marked today: Albert Einstein’s birth, he of the theory of relativity, in 1879; the Number Pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, since 1988; and the murder of Rio councilwoman, and race and LGBT activist, Marielle Franco, a year ago.
Such events have little connection among them, but understanding each for its relevance help us get to know better the world we live in. Or rather, beyond champagne and cake, today could be suitable for a bit of soul searching as for why we are in the state we are in.
Number coincidences, to be sure, are mainly illusions our brains create for forming connections otherwise hard to notice by busybodies like us. Most times, the law of probabilities and statistics debunk claims of supernatural occurrences based on figures or even random events.
That being said, we’re consumed by possibilities they suggest to our overstimulated, and easily bored, existences. It’s enough to see, say, the same number appearing in a seemingly casual succession, for us to lose it, read it as a divine sign, or simply go buy a lottery ticket.
Gamblers blame their obsession to their automatic response to digits, and dare not to imply that luck, usually bad for everyone, has nothing to do with numeric values. Because, well, some of them, do strike rich every once in a while. People are just nuts for numbers.

THE POET OF LOGICAL IDEAS
Einstein, born 140 years ago in the then German Empire, had a peripatetic life. He renounced his country of birth, and spent five years as a stateless scientist. In 1933, while visiting the U.S. already as a Swiss citizen, he saw Hitler‘s ascent to power and decided to stay.
It’s also ironic that, while his research opened the door for the atomic era, which he personally urged Americans to join, later in life he co-signed the 1955 Einstein-Russell Manifesto, along philosopher Bertrand Russell, to this day, a monument to pacifism and an alert about nukes.
For science, Relativity was his biggest legacy, with implications in practically all fields of knowledge. To us, though, he is the benign-looking white-haired man with his tongue stuck out, in the famous pic by UPI photographer Arthur Sasse, taken 68 years ago today.
Millions of teenagers had that photo on their wall in the 1960s, together with Make Love, Not War signs, the Beatles, and other heroes of the era. Just like now, few could define Relativity, but most knew what Einstein stood for til the end: the dignity of the human experience.
He’s one of the 20th century’s figures that made his the world we all live in now. His sway over science and the culture seems boundless, and will certainly last. Less certain is whether his influence is still strong enough to convince mankind to opt for peace.

SO WHY SQUARING A CIRCLE?
It’s understandable that Egyptians made the first calculations about the circle’s diameter so early on in our recorded history. And that Greek mathematician Archimedes of Syracuse perfected that figure to what we now know to be 3.141592653589793238 (and counting).
After all, it was already known that heavenly bodies were round – even as the concept of nationality was still very fluid – and the circle is considered the most primitive of human inventions. ‘Don’t disturb my circles,‘ though, Archimedes‘ alleged last words, not so much.
William Jones is credited to picking the Greek letter P to name the diameter, in 1706. But only in 1988, the American scientific (more)
__________
Read Also:
* Albert’s Pie
* In a Relative Way
* American Pi

Continue reading

The Bug Report

A New Unicorn Praying Mantis
& the Rediscovered Queen Bee

Without fuss, our relationship with insects has been wildly changing lately. First, we considered eating them in case of an apocalyptic scenario. Then came the worldwide alert: bugs are disappearing – led by a bee catastrophic fallout. Whatever happened to our lunch?
Then again, the same science that predicts climate change may cause the extinction of critters and humans alike, keeps finding new species to amaze us all. The latest: a stunning praying mantis, and the reappearance of the giant Wallace bee, not seen since 1981.
Bugs’ otherworldly beauty and, based on what we now know, crucial role in the food chain, reassigns our appreciation of these creatures. So utterly distinct from us, and yet, so essential to life. The poignant note about it all is that we may not get to discover them in time.
It was surprising, for instance, to find out that spiders eat in a year the weight of the entire mankind. Or that beetles, with over 380,000 species, are the most biodiverse, making up to 40% of all insects on Earth. Some would say, no wonder The Beatles are still so dominant.
But even before the troubling notion that we’d need to start eating them – ‘for the protein, they said’ -, they began to vanish. It’s still unclear how they’re being affected by the changing climate, but one thing is for sure: if they go, we all go right after.

A UNICORN IN A BRAZILIAN FOREST
Brazil’s Mata Atlântica, near Rio, is one of the world’s most diverse forests. Older than the Amazon, only 10% is now left from its original size. In this doomed place, however, life thrives, and it’s where a magical creature was discovered, among half a dozen new species.
Science has no place for praying, except for the praying mantis (pardon the poor pun). Their alien appearance is not very popular, though, even when looking like a dead leaf, or an orchid. And then, there’s that business of having their heads eaten while copulating.
Maybe that’s how evolution treated such a mortal threat: by developing horns. The hand-sized Zoolea praying mantis has one, along a pair of imposing metallic-red limbs. Thus, next time you see one, before running, check for the unicorn. And make a wish or something.

THE BEE MISSING FOR 38 YEARS
Over a decade ago, what became known as Colony Collapse Disorder was so serious that scientists feared for our food crops, without bees to pollinate them. Luckily, it wasn’t to be, not because of that, anyway. But bee populations are still declining, and now, other insects too.
That’s why the rediscovery of the Wallace‘s giant bee (Megachile Pluto) in Indonesia is so auspicious. Four times as big as a honeybee, it does not produce honey or live in hives. Also, confirming a trend (more)
________
Read Also:
* Racy Meals
* Heat Riders
* Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees

Continue reading

Life W/O Lennon


That Cold Night
in December 1980

Thanks for always being on our side.

________
Read Also:
* Every Man
* Dear John
* Bloody Christmas

Split Ends

A Brush of Fresh Hair or How
Pubic Curls May Save Your Life

Few things resemble more our evolutionary pedigree than body hair. Culturally, having a ‘full head’ of it means being young, beautiful, healthy, even powerful. Until it departs on its own, we spent years combing it, cutting it, shaving it, dying it, and splitting it with aplomb.
It’s another story, though, with hair elsewhere but on top of the head. A reminder of how fast we went from furry animal to naked ape, we’ve set strict, and clearly gender-biased, social codes to dealing with its appearance. For ear and nose strays, though, antipathy is genderless.
The inconvenient truth about hair is that it’s easily matted with sexism, racial intolerance, and political and religious oppression. It can get greasy with prejudice, scorched dry with the dust of old traditions, and offensively malodorous, reeking of staled rites and bad blood.
In other cases, the way we look at hair or lack thereof reveals the huge gap between our general perception of what each gender is supposed to look like, and what evolution has determined was the best way to cope with changing climate and environmental conditions. We adapted and changed to survive, but often still carry the phantom of an obsolete, long discarded psychological association.
Chest hair, for example, long thought to be a symbol of manhood and testosterone dominance, has recently been found to actually be a deterrent for potential female mates. Scientists long knew that women’s preference for hairlessness may have been a way to avoid lice and other tiny mites that would enjoy the comfort of chest hair in unkempt males of yore (read, all males born some 10,000 years ago).
Even though that’s hopefully no longer the case (as hygiene habits have evolved), the pattern is still present: a paper, published on the Archives of Sexual Behavior journal, shows that women still prefer ‘relatively hair-free guys,’ over hirsute types, even in areas where that kind of parasite is not a realistic threat to humans. Would skinny Williamsburg hipsters chuckle at this notion too?

THE BRAZILIAN RAPUNZEL
For a while, Natasha Moraes de Andrade had one of the longest hairs in the world, which caught the skittish eye of international tabloids. But when the shantytown girl from Rio sold her most marketable asset at 12, she felt relieved. Easy to see why: some things can make anyone drunk with big dreams. Like her, there are many whose dreams haven’t yet been crushed, bless her souls.
China’s Xie Qiuping, for instance, whose hair measured at one point 18ft 5in – still far from Guinness Record material –  also sold it. With the proceeds, she got to do things many 12-year-olds take it for granted, like riding a bike, or not having to spend hours (more)
__________
Read Also:
* Neverlands
* Show it, Grow it

Continue reading

Stanley Cubic

Kubrick, Who’d Have Been 90 & the   
Odyssey to a Future That Never Was

A New Yorker who spent most of his life in the U.K., Stanley Kubrick had been an accomplished photojournalist before his movie career as a director took off. His 1946 series for Look magazine, Life and Love on the New York City Subway, displays the same keen eye and compositional style that would mark his filmography later on.
In just a few years, the man who would say at one point that ‘the most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent.’ went on to become anything but, with a string of now classics, such as Path of Glory, Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, to name a few.
Today, when he would’ve become 90, Stanley Kubrick is intrinsically connected with the future that he realized with his movies, more than anything he’s ever envisioned. And that’s no small feat for such an overachiever. Even as he just missed the dawn of the iconographic year that named his sci-fi masterpiece, much of what he and Arthur C. Clarke anticipated is finally rising on the horizon of our times.
Not that we should feel too nostalgic about the future that could’ve been, with its interstellar travel, and dreams of finally understanding our evolutionary connection with the ‘indifferent’ universe surrounding us. We’re actually lucky that another one of his disturbing dystopias of what may lay ahead, A Clockwork Orange, based on an Anthony Burgess book, hasn’t quite materialized. Yet.
Before going back to those pictures of a post-war Manhattan, and to a few interesting audio and visual tchotchkes about Kubrick we’ve found on the Internet, let’s do him some justice. For even at the heart of his enormously challenging techno-futuristic visual parables, there was his deeply humanistic option for a different construct of our own fate.
From his anti-war trilogy of sorts, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and Full Metal Jacket, to his portraits of individuals at odds with an all too powerful system, either stoically like Spartacus, or as a crook, like Barry Lyndon, or even one succumbing to his own creeping madness, as in Stephen King’s The Shinning, Kubrick remained faithful to his non-religious but highly moral Jewish working class roots.

RIDING THE UNDERGROUND
The Museum of the City of New York has some 40 thousand negatives that the young photographer took of Manhattan in the 1940s. Some of his pictures are so cleared eye they could’ve been taken now. Subway riders fast asleep, hanging from the overhead bars, or with their faces buried in newspapers. Yes, you could make that iPhones, but the underlying content would be the same.
Calling him Stan Kubrick, the Camera Quiz Kid, Mildred Stagg wrote in 1948 about ‘the boy who said that had turned nineteen a week ago, and has been a staff photographer for Look magazines since age seventeen.’ And registered the kid’s own impressions about (more)
___________
Read Also
* The Shinning
* Polly & Meow
* Checking In
* Strange Love

Continue reading

Earworm Tunes

When Humming a Dopey Song
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 extinct New England group of white kids, but it may had to do with the string quartet. Or The Beatles. It was 1968, after all. Even worse is to admit of 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 fav that year was, brace yourself, the ‘great’ Romuald, of Andorra.

QUASE FUI LHE PROCURAR – Roberto Carlos
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.
OBLADI OBLADA – Beatles
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 (more)
_______
Read Also:
* The Standards
* Newspaper Taxis

Continue reading