Dime a Dozen

Who’ll Notice If These
12 Street Kids Are Gone?

Take a good look at these faces. If we were to pull your heartstrings, picture them dreaming of being doctors, artists, teachers, even presidents of their countries. Chances are, however, they’ll never make it. Both statistically and in real life, it’s likely they’re already gone.
Despite their resemblance to kids you know, they only count as dehumanized figures of ignored treatises on the homeless, the war, infant mortality, hunger, prostitution, slavery. Not to break those strings, but you may pass daily by them and not even notice.
Yes, they have stories, and much good to contribute to the world, and who knows, maybe among them there’s someone who one day could even save your life. But that doesn’t mean much.
And yes, there are a lot of people who spend their waking hours, and sleepless nights, working and wondering what to do, so unrelated children will be cared for just as if they belong to families and loving friends and an empathetic society. But most of them do not, and won’t get a chance to even know what that means.

You’re still free to wonder about whatever happened to Alex or Indira, after they posed with their sleeping cots, and you may search on the Internet for the identity of those two Cambodian boys, sleeping embraced on a set of steps. We added the photographers’ names just in case.
You may also inquire around about those two girls, among thousands of others, who seemed so happy with the bottles of water they’ve retrieved amid the rubble of Gaza. Or you may wish that those two boys, who’ve crossed the border of Syria to Turkey with their families, have found shelter.
We won’t stand on your way. In fact, we’d even appreciate if you could help finding out who are those four American kids, sleeping in what seems to be an abandoned room, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Joy & World Woes By the Cup Full, Colltalers

The monthlong 2014 World Cup, which closed in Rio yesterday with Germany’s victory over Argentina, had its fair share of ecstasy, agony, fulfillment and heartbreak. As it goes, it also reflected, with frightening accuracy at times, the troubled and deeply divided world we all live in.
For even before it started on June 12, it’d already collected a number of ominous signs revealing more than its organizers, Fifa and the Brazilian confederation, would like us to see, about brutal realities hidden just behind the exuberance of the game of football in modern times.
Good and bad, the cup will leave lasting impressions, as any event of such magnitude, memories to recollect, lessons we’d better not forget, and an index of sorts for some of the most nefarious and persistent ills of our age.
Displays of racism, homophobia, neo-nazism, evidence of social exclusion in game attendance, ticket fraud, corruption of national confederations, violence in and out of the field, it was all out for anyone to see.
As the host, Brazil led the charge, and last summer, as the warm-up competition Confederations Cup was in progress, Brazilians staged the first massive rallies since the end of the military dictatorship, in the 1980s, in protest against Fifa and the government’s preparations for the cup.
By then, it’d become clear that in the five years since Brazil had been chosen to host both tournaments, huge investments supposed to fund them and flood the economy had already been diverted. On the ground, the only palpable sign of their influx was in the construction or rebuilding of mammoth stadiums, some of them in cities without a team in the Brazilian soccer league, and, it was found later, mainly funded by taxpayer money.
So where was their money? asked thousands of citizens. It’d certainly not gone to Brazil’s decaying infrastructure, hospital facilities, or in the building of much needed schools. Such an explosive realization, which served as the trigger for the rallies that ebbed and flowed up to the World Cup this year, got then a temporarily relief, relatively speaking, as Brazil won the Confederations. Now that it lost the big prize, it’s all up for grabs again.
When a group of German black-faced fans showed up for the game against Ghana, or another one ran into the field with a Nazi SS tattooed on his body, their intentions were clear. And so were chants of ‘monkey, monkey,’ and a homophobic call from Mexican supporters during other games.
Brazil’s social inequality was also exposed during the cup. Critics pointed to high price tickets as one way to keep the poor out of the stadiums, and for the predominance of white Brazilians attending the games, in higher percentages than the social and racial mix of the nation’s demographics.
Such social divide was at display in the ‘silent army‘ of garbage pickers, hired by the organizers to collect and sort the average five ton of garbage generated by every game. As hundreds of thousands of Brazilians already make a living out of ‘mining’ landfills, in a country with few recycling programs, their presence was considered a positive one, even if it doesn’t cover up for the inherent indignity of the have-nots’ lot in life.
Another black eye that may be credited to cup organizers is the alleged elimination of stray dogs from the streets of some host cities in Brazil. Just as it happened in Sochi, Russia, the Humane Society has received reports of the animals being ’rounded up and removed,’ no one knows to where.
But the biggest scandal that broke during the games has been the allegations that a company partner of Fifa, Match Hospitality, was running a giant ticket scalping scheme, worth a few million dollars. Brazilian authorities arrested its CEO, Raymond Whelan, who promptly escaped custody and is now the target of a police manhunt. Despite denials, Fifa is expected to answer to an official investigation into the ring.
Fifa is also involved in two other somewhat revealing matters: the suspension of the Nigerian team from international appearances, until the government reinstates the entire soccer governing staff that it fired for poor performance in Brazil. And a copyright dispute with giant Hispanic broadcast system Univision.
In both instances, lack of sensitivity and the zeal protecting its interests were typical. In the case of Nigeria, despite the expected venal government truculence, it’s hard to find winners in the decision, since the players are the ones ultimately punished by it. As for Univision, well, that’s big enough of a corporation that certainly doesn’t need us to take its side, regardless of who has the most rights over the labor exercised by, again, the players.
It all sounds minor, compared to what Fifa has been accused by community groups, from supporting the displacing of thousands to install its ‘Fan Fests,’ Continue reading

Ungrounded

Threat to Our Dream
of Living Among Stars

In the concert of nations, Russia holds little sway. That is, if one discounts its nuclear stocks and storied past as a fierce competitor with world power credentials, its influence is now mostly regional. That’s not how President Vladimir Putin sees it, though.
So, despite all the hyperventilation about its imperialistic moves against its neighbors, which it never really ceased to control, and the phony indignation displayed by U.S. and Europe, the world doesn’t really care much about it. Except when it comes to space.
Specially, in what the International Space Station, that marvel of global scientific cooperation, is concerned. Aloft for over 10 years, with a steady stream of technological achievements to boot, the flying lab has done more to world harmony that many a peace talk ever could.
That positive outlook is what has been seriously challenged this week when the Russian president issued a not-so veiled threat to bar the launch of American satellites by Russian-made rockets, and even ban the use of the station itself by the U.S. after 2020, which, to be sure, is a qualified ruse.
The ISS hasn’t been projected to be fully operational much beyond that date anyway, and only recently its decommission got a reprieve, as the bitter reality that it’s been reduced to become the only game in town, or rather, space, has sunk in for nations still interested in exploring it, including the U.S.
Which is also at fault in the whole thing, for the record, and not for trying to upset Putin’s campaign to destabilize Ukraine next door. But because the U.S. has withdrawn much of that once unwavering support to its own space program since the last Shuttle left the assembly line.

WORLD, WE’VE HAD A PROBLEM HERE
After the great conquests of the 1960s and 70s, NASA, the agency in charge of firing up the imagination of Americans still starstruck, has frankly come up with mediocre plans to follow up the Apollo, the Hubble, the Shuttle programs, and even the ISS, of which it was a crucial contributor.
Instead, lacking the funding and epic ideas needed to go ‘to infinity and beyond,’ to use Buzz Lightyear credo (if you have to ask…), after folding the Shuttle program, NASA decided to count on the aging and unreliable Russian Soyuz rockets, to lift its ambitions to orbit. It couldn’t couldn’t work.
Why? Haven’t you noticed where they all land, and eventually depart from? You’re right, Ukraine. That in itself granted Putin a free ride, and power over the aspirations of millions of Americans who wished we still had a first class ticket towards the future.
The space card was bound to be played also when a misguided bet was placed on the market’s ability to carry our dreams aloft, on board 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

Nuking the Future

Mutant Butterflies May Fail
To Prevent a New Fukushima

There are just a few kinds of people who’d feign surprise about this news: those who have been living under a rock for the past four years; those paid for by Japan’s nuclear industry; and Lady Barbara Judge, who’s nothing of the former, and more than a bit of the latter.
With the fast approaching third anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which prompted the world’s worst nuclear meltdown, at the complex of plants at Fukushima, what was once logical is, startling, no longer a certainty: that Japan would phase out its nukes for good.
Apparently, not even high radioactive readings surrounding the complex, or the fact that a beautiful creature such as a butterfly has become the canary of the mile, showing disturbing signs of mutations, seem to be enough to deter a renewed push to forget what could’ve been a horrifying tragedy.
Perhaps, the fact that it wasn’t, either by luck, or because genetic mutations and cancers in humans will take years to reveal their patterns, is the one to point as culprit for such short-memory mentality, driving Japan’s government and its aging generation of energy executives.
Who, by the way, should know better: after all, most of them were eyewitnesses of the devastation of the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some 60 something years ago, and how the staggering health toll it took continues to claim lives and hopes for a future.
We’re not about to bash the brave Japanese people here, who has paid such a heavy price for the sins of its rulers during the war and before it. In reality, Japan has one of the most progressive environmental Continue reading

Pocket Dissent

Ai Weiwei’s Notes About
a World That Needs to End

‘You know, if they can do this to me, they can do this to anybody.’ That’s part of one of the most revealing aphorisms of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s latest book, aptly named Weiwei-isms, edited by Larry Warsh and published by the Princeton University Press.
It encapsulates the three main characters inhabiting his quotes: himself, the Chinese government, and everybody else. It also offers a glimpse of the oversized ambitions of this little book: to discuss the state’s exacerbated role on the lives of his fellow citizens.
Its format and fluidity are in fact deceptive, as they mask Ai’s larger proposition as an artist at odds with his country’s idea of society, and with a great many Chinese, who may hardly understand the motivations behind his avowed intention to speak for them.
The quotes, organized in themes such as freedom of expression, art and activism, power and morality, and the digital world, may at times resort to short, staccato-like sentences, just like on Tweeter, a social tool Ai’s mastered and praises in the book.
Others convey his ambivalence about having unwillingly become an international personality. His constant jabs at China’s authoritarian regime often betray bemusement at being singled out by it. His global exposure, thus, is both a bliss and a curse.
A land that rejects the truth, barricades itself against change, and lacks the spirit of freedom, is hopeless,‘ he denounces. Even though not one to play the martyr card, Ai nevertheless relishes in a self-appointed role of spokesperson for the voiceless.
If there’s one who’s not free, then I’m not free. If there’s one who suffers, then I suffer,’ may sound a tad messianic. But it’s also a gutsy stand, in that it ignites a long overdue discussion about the politics of individual liberties in his country.

HARDSHIP & TURNING POINTS
When Ai Weiwei was born in 1957, his father Ai Qing, a well known poet, was facing a public campaign of defamation that was to last some Continue reading

Binders Full of It

We Can’t Just Run for Cover
When Ignorance Runs for Office

‘If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.’ Rape pregnancy ‘is something that God intended to happen.’ ‘You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along.’ ‘Evolution, embryology, the Big Bang theory — all of that is lies straight from the pit of hell.’
As everyone and Ann Romney now know, these statements have been uttered by two U.S. Senate candidates and two House reps, all identified with the ‘family values’ and anti-abortion rhetoric. The question is: how they all have even a shot at joining Congress?
First, the protagonists, please. Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who made the incredibly ignorant and hurtful comment about rape, is Chairman of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and is in an absurdly tight contest against Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill. To show his class, he added another pearl to his biography by calling McCaskill ‘one of those dogs.’
The author of the god’s will statement on rape is Indiana Treasurer and GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. The contention about abortion was professed privately by pro-life and family values champion Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a then married physician, who pressured one of his patients turned into mistress to end her pregnancy, according to divorce court papers.
The ‘pit of hell’ quote comes from Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, also a physician, who’s member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, and is running for reelection. Speaking to an enthralled church audience, he also said that the Earth is ‘about 9,000 years old’ and ‘was created in six days as we (sic) know them.’

As for the answer to why they’re contenders to such a cushioned job, it may require a painful soul-searching process from every American, with self-recriminating stops along the way, and plenty of room to elaborate sensible theories; from the failure of our education system to the Continue reading