Downtime

Seven Treats to Give
Yourself & the World

The year has started with a bang and your head still hurts. So let’s ease ourselves into it, as gently as possible, shall we? Thus our very useful guide of stuff to do – the kind you never find time for – whose rewards you’ll be collecting way beyond December. 
Like, serving meals at a Soup Kitchen. Or taking a bath, in a sensory-deprived tank. You pick the order. In a pickle? The state may owe you cash. Kinda blue? Host a pet this weekend. And more. New York choices are plenty for serving and be served. Just sign on.
For soon enough, there’ll be laundry to do, people to call, and debt collectors to avoid. Holidays are brutal, and their toll usually lasts for months. Here’s your chance to break the mold and get started on something rare, to remember this January like you never done before.
Only a minority is already living in this future we may’ve imagined 2016 would be, this same time last year. Most of us can’t even write the date correctly yet. Gosh, there’s still so much left to do just from a few days ago, let alone 12 months past.
Never mind new resolutions. Nothing ever changes purely on their account, anyway. Start simple, they say, progress wearily, and proceed with caution. We know, our head hurts too. Who can stand strong emotions so soon? Take this guide and calls us in the morning.

PICNIC AT A GRAVEYARD
It may sound morbid but many are still mourning the death of yet another year, without achieving anything near what David Bowie, who’ll be 69 this Friday, already had at a much younger age. So weep, but take some wine and cheese with you. You’ll be in good company.
Green-Wood, in Brooklyn, and Woodlawn, in the Bronx, are both beautiful, full of history, and peaceful enough for some quiet crying. Plus, they’ve both hold periodic activities, some after midnight, of course, that don’t involve your corpse just yet. Good hauntings.

SERVE SOME SOUP
Come holidays and big dates, someone always has this idea of volunteering at rescue missions around town. Problem is, they’re usually fully booked at those times, by others just like you, except a bit more industrious to enlist their names. It’s all good, though.
Now, most places can’t get enough help. With increased homelessness in this frigid city of ours, it’s a golden chance to fulfill one of those rare urges that doesn’t benefit only you. Whether it’ll make you feel good about yourself is irrelevant. Gotta serve somebody.
TAKE A TANK BATH
Neuroscientist John C. Lilly (who’d have been 100 today) is credited with developing sensory deprivation tanks, where one can float for hours on Epson salts. Later, he added LSD to the experience, (more)
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Western Omelet

Freeze Eggs, Pick the Time &
Get Pregnant. Any Questions?

There are many reasons why a woman would choose to freeze her eggs. Career is often invoked, albeit it’s also overrated. Beyond the pros and cons of such decision – and they are indeed many -, getting there has its own hefty share of potential risky turns.
Health, emotional state, peer pressure or economic status, it all may affect a woman’s drive to maternity. But whereas social bullshit, or technology shortcomings, may be unavoidable bumps, there should be no other role for her mate, if she’d happen to have one: to shut up and pay close attention.
There’s a rush, among Western societies’ elites, to plan life as if following a recipe, with measured servings of duty, pleasure, adventure, and comfort, healthy assumptions, and invested decisions, all supposed to offer a well balanced meal of experiences and zest.
But life hardly follows such prescription. Rather, its messy development assaults even the most pampered among us, pushing most of everyone to engage on an endless chase after what’s next. Along the way, sense of purpose and grasp of reality may get lost.
To a woman it’s also entrusted a double-weight task, as her body is claimed by all sides as support to their own survival. Thus, all festering assumptions and expectations, both onerous and false, about what ‘nature’ expects from a female. Needless to repeat, nature has nothing to do with it.
As women wrestle control over their right to procreate whenever they find it fit, technology has kept apace, offering an array of valuable tools. Despite society’s self-serving obscurantism, the women’s struggle for self determination has become template to a whole range of human rights issues.

PLANNING FOR AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Choice is still denied to the majority of women living outside the bubble of industrialized societies. But even for the privileged few, such tools don’t come cheap. And the decision is as wrenching and grief-prone as any responsible parenthood step can be. Maybe more.
In statistical terms, most women in the world live in squalor conditions, with no running water or power, and are in charge of kids, lovers, and relatives. Many are enslaved or paid a fraction Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Illusion of Small Evil, Colltalers

‘Tis the season for shopping in western societies, and shop will be performed with abandon and savage zeal. Never mind supporting a retail industry that globally pays undignified wages to its workforce, or the need for restraining frivolous spending, as most of what’s being purchased over these few weeks depletes natural resources, takes precedence over food production, and will be sitting on landfills soon enough.
To another industry, though, shopping extends for more than weeks. Just in time for the holidays, a PAX report released last week found that financial institutions around the world are on a $27 billion spree since 2011. What are they buying? Stocks from companies that make cluster bombs, which are banned by international law because, like land mines, they remain active long after their purpose is fulfilled.
As big cities around the globe light up their Christmas trees, and genuinely well-intended people harbor feelings of goodwill and grace, their pension funds are busy betting their retirement money in the assumption that war is good for business, everything else be damned.
We’re not being naive here, or blaming investment managers for following the smoky trail of profits on the back of scorched villages and bodies burned to a cinder. But, as Hanna Arendt wrote about Nazi lieutenant Adolf Eichmann, the ‘banality of evil’ is that it’s done ‘by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.’ In other words, crimes committed in our name are indeed our responsibility.
What aggravates the study done by PAX, a Netherlands-based peace advocacy organization, is the already rising costs of the U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIL in Syria, the Iraq campaign’s daily costs, and the fighting in Afghanistan. As defense hawks have gleefully declared as inevitable, it’ll help engorging the Pentagon’s budget and boost consequent spending in homeland security.
The report names a who-is-who in the American pantheon of financial corporations, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, along with well known insurers Aflac, Fidelity Investments and MetLife, and defense contractor BlackRock, plus companies in China, South Korea and the U.K., among others, all acting as asset managers, banking-service or loan providers.
115 countries, including all of the above, signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, prohibiting multiple explosive-parts bombs. Nevertheless, their use has continued, if not increased, worldwide, and as recent as September, evidence was found that they’ve been deployed in Ukraine and Syria. To have an idea, cluster bombs dropped in Laos, 50 years ago, continue to claim lives.
But the strictly material costs of war, and consequent profit to be gained from it by people who haven’t ‘made up their minds,’ or just don’t care about it, can approachh Continue reading

Cold Cups II

The Fan Who Sold His Honor & the
World Cup Coach Who Can’t Drive

Even if Fifa were a model of probity, which recent allegations have shown it clearly is not, or street rallies against its costs had cooled off with the start of the games, which they haven’t, the World Cup in Brazil has already provided a whole plethora of political drama.
From the multicultural bleachers to the quarrels over refereeing, from the quality of the grass drainage to antiaircraft artillery on civilian buildings, matches and goals have been thrilling, for sure, but what’s going on beyond the pitch may as well upstage it all.
As Brazilians protest the money bacchanal, brokered by Fifa and funded by its mega sponsors, and the competition heats up with record goals and relatively few surprises so far, one wonders whether there’s even space on the coverage for anything else. As it turns out, we make room for just that sort of thing.
For appalling mistakes committed by field officials are as much a part of the game as its players’ cheap theatrics, and with all certainty, will remain the theme of late night, heated discussions over tears and beers for years to come. It’s what’s not so obvious, though, that we’re most interested.
Thus, while that Barcelona star may be executing a perfect curvy free kick, out of sight and in the middle of a sea of multicolored tribute jerseys, someone may be giving a whole country a black eye, or a sympathetic one, by just flicking their wrist. At times, cameras may capture the moment but mostly, they may miss it.
And, just as life itself, the so called ‘teaching moments’ go beyond the walls of these temples of football, or through another march against high ticket prices on a street nearby. World Cup-related news, not so breaking but weird just the same, may be happening right across from the stadium, atop some apartment building.
The reach of this tournament may have a surprising sway both at the confluence of sports and morality, and as far as some court decision across the ocean. Coming July 13, regardless of who’ll lift the trophy, we’ll have gone through a common experience of such a planetary scale that each of these stories may count as much as the goals scored.
And you may thank your lucky shirts for we’re skipping altogether anything about the tragic Nigeria blast, that killed several people (in a replay of Uganda four years ago, remember?) or the Mexican drugpin who got nabbed by the Feds after he bought a ticket to the World Cup… on his own name. Smart.

GREED & CIVILITY AT THE STANDS
Speaking of most Brazilians, they may be fighting the good fight against corruption, but apparently José Humberto Martins is yet to get the memo. Last week in Natal, he was one of the thousands wearing a plastic poncho during the rain soaked Mexico vs. Cameroon game.
According to his own account, at some point, he was approached by a drenched tourist who offered to buy his cheap garment, unaware it was on sale for $14 elsewhere at the stadium. Not one to let the chance to make a buck pass, torrential pouring notwithstanding, José agreed to sell it on the spot: for $200!
The good name of soccer fans everywhere was rescued from the mud the following day, though, Continue reading

The Horse’s Mouth

Ridiculous Predictions
for a World Cup Winner

So everyone and their second cousins have their own system to fathom what’s by definition unpredictable: who’ll win the World Cup. Obviously, only a certified fool would risk squandering what’s little left of their personal street cred by offering their own stupid guesses. Here’s our certified fool’s stupid guesses.
As with any completely unscientific research worth its dirty test tubes, a credible-looking set of predictions has to have some semblance of a rationale animating the proceedings, along with its mostly random elements of pure insanity. That’s why we’ve added the always reliable, and certainly ancient, Chinese horoscope.
Completely arbitrarily, we’ve created a point rate system by attributing an order of relevance to each team’s credentials: the number of World Cup wins, 1.5 point each, home advantage, 0.5 point, continental advantage, 0.5 point, reigning champion status, 1 point, and 1 point for each year the team won under the Year of Horse, which is the Chinese sign for 2014.
In 19 editions of the cup, the number of wins has been a consistent indicator of success; single winners won only three times. Hosting has equaled six victories. Europe and South America have split championships and, in South Africa, Europe took the lead.
Reigning champions have won twice in a roll only two times, but this was our way of tempering with the system, and add value to Spain’s current status. 2014 marks the seventh World Cup under the ‘influence’ of the Horse, the seventh sign of the Chinese horoscope (whooo, drum roll and all that).
This year’s sign was the same for 1930 (Uruguay Continue reading

Nuke’s for Nuts

Nun’s Jail Sentence Indicts
Risky Bet on Nuclear Power

How much of a threat is an 84-year old nun to a multi-billion dollar facility that’s been enriching weapons-grade uranium since WW2? Why, a lot if it’s run by a join venture of two government defense contractors that are embroiled in a $22 billion award dispute.
Enough also to sentence Megan Rice last Tuesday to nearly three years in prison, allegedly for breaking and vandalizing the facility, but most likely for her long and distinguished career as a pacifist, critical of the U.S.’s production of weapons of mass destruction.
It was only the latest scuffle between an anti-nuke activist group, in this case, Rice and two other peace protesters, and powerful recipients of fat government defense contracts, Babcock & Wilcox Co. and Bechtel Group Inc., that’s been the currency of the American option for nuclear power.
The disproportional sentence was slapped on the fearsome threesome after they exposed serious security flaws at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Y-12 National Security Complex, by staging a two-hour occupation of a $500 million storage bunker, which they splattered with red paint and scribbled with anti-war slogans.
Such scandalous ‘crime’ of trespassing seemed more important to U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar than what the act was supposed to call attention to: that a plant producing a lethal compound, capable of wipe out a small country if ignited, would be so poorly guarded that an elderly person could easily gain entry.
Thus, the recent tradition of shooting the messenger, never mind the message, that the Obama administration has been particularly keen in pursuing, got another notch up the yardstick. And for now, let’s not even get started with how unsafe uranium processing has been since, well, Hiroshima.
BIRTHPLACE OF THE FAT MAN
Y-12 was part of the Manhattan Project, and thus, its history arc can be traced back to the bombing of the Japanese city, that effectively ended the war but also opened a scary can of radioactive worms, all the way back to Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Between those two brackets, there was Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, plus a dozen frightening misses. Although we haven’t yet reached critical mass, at least in number of casualties, there’s been one constant related to nukes since their inception: the world holds its breath whenever they malfunction.
In fact, behind all the spin and justification those with invested interests in nuclear power are always ready to invoke, there’s a consensus that such technology remains a monster that, once Continue reading

The Blunder Games

When Olympic Ideals Boil Down
to Saving Dogs From Being Killed

There hasn’t been any shortage of despicable reasons to abhor the Olympic Winter Games starting today in Sochi, Russia, but its Organizing Committee has managed to win the prize for the cruelest of them all: it ordered a hunt to kill the city’s stray dog population.
And it’s one bid that may’ve been actually completed by the eve of the opening ceremony, unlike the athletes’ village and the visitors’ transportation hub, both still under construction, and running and potable water at some of the press corps’ hotel accommodations.
Add to that too a hostile climate towards gay and basic civil rights, appalling conditions faced by laborers, many still unpaid and some already deported, and a general menace lurking about the games, after countless threats of terrorism made by Vladimir Putin’s political opponents.
This Olympics were to be his crowning achievement after 12 years of unquestionable power over everything big and small in the Russian society. It’s shaping up to be, however, a gigantic blunder that has cost billions of dollars, even if so far, not many (human) lives. Let’s hope that it keeps that way.
Everything about this exercise of self-aggrandizing has gone counter Putin’s ambitions, and one would expect, may serve to undermine his steel grip over Russia. It wouldn’t be a bad result for such arrogant enterprise, if that actually happens. History, though, usually proves us wrong.

THE RACE IS ON
To be sure, the problem of stray dogs in big metropolis around the world is not a monopoly of Russia, even when considering those in the streets of Moscow, for example, legendary urban features. Not long ago, bankrupted Detroit had to face a similar problem, with thousands of dogs wondering its neighborhoods.
There, animal organizations, mostly non-profit, plus a sympathetic population have come to the rescue, and many famished canines have found homes and suitable shelters, according to reports. But the problem persists, as efforts to educate people about sterilization and other measures take time until producing palpable results.
Elsewhere, in cities like Rome, Paris and Rio de Janeiro, passionate debates about what to do with strays and feral cats and dogs continue Continue reading