Blood Money

Digging for Gold &
Finding a Rat, Instead

There are two sure ways to change one’s social status, we’re told: win the lotto, or find a lot of cash. What we’re rarely told about, though, is that pesky moral itch that troubles some: where’s this coming from? That’s surely enough to put a chill on that big blast in Vegas.
What if you’d come across a cache of dough? Yay, you’re rich. But wait, you’d say. Was this stolen from natives? Jews? drug fiends? If you’d been in the mountains of Poland, or in the sea and farms of Colombia, in the past few months, you’d certainly wonder. As you should.
So, fine, what if you don’t ask those questions? No sweat, take the money and run. Who knows, you may have people you want to help, will wind up running a charity or something. Good for you. Just be sure not call anyone from that bus station, once you’re done and broke.
The Internet is full of heart-warming stories, about nice chaps finding cash and instead of running, returning it all. Which is great but doesn’t turn anyone into a certified saint. Then again, there’s always the possibility that it’s too good to be true. A con. A hoax.
There are many ways to screw up the few chances one gets in this life. Even if there’s no nobility on starving, or natural enlightenment for being poor, time on Earth goes very fast. That means that, even making a wrong detour may lead you to redemption. Or something. Just don’t call, etc.

A 2-PART, 300-YEAR BATTLE
The Spanish Armada’s 1588 defeat to the British didn’t stop their nations’ centuries-old rivalry (which set today’s dominance of their languages). In May of 1708, one of its ships, the Galleón San José, lost another battle to the Royal Navy and sank off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.
Last week, when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted the wreck’s discovery, staking a claim over its estimated record $17 billion treasure, he immediately set up yet another 3-way battle, this (more)
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Mad Beverages

Gatorade With Flame Retardant
& the Brew From Christmas Trees

Imagine that there’s proof that America’s favorite football drink, Gatorade, is loaded with a dangerous substance. Surely the NFL would jump against the prospect of its faithful fans to be gulping something so toxic, and take steps to ban the stuff, right? Well, not really.
We’ll give the C word a rest after this, but what’s the deal with beer made from Christmas trees? Despite being popular with ancient Scandinavians, who would drink it to prevent scurvy, and certainly for entertainment purposes too, it never really caught on ever since.
We’ll discuss these two crazy beverages in a minute, but let’s open today’s proceedings talking about the other way around: the not so excitable world of sobriety. As it turns out, there’s a surprisingly adverse effect caused by less alcohol consumption, at least in the business world: clients spend less.
Come again? According to a Douglas Quenqua story on the NYTimes, there’s an almost insidious prejudice about non-drinkers. The little secret about it is that sober people may be perceived as untrustworthy, and even not very good at executing that killing trade.
It’s a gross misrepresentation, to be sure, akin to mistrust by some abstemious about those who can’t seem to function socially without a cocktail glass in their hands. But the focus of the story is the possible cultural pressure in the business world toward drinking, specially if a crucial sale or a key contract needs to be signed.
And yet, a walk through midtown restaurants at lunch hour may convince anyone that fifty years, and not merely 15, have passed since people used to drink at least a glass of wine spritzer, when sharing lunch with clients or colleagues. Three-Martini power lunches, then, Continue reading

Mad Beverages

Gatorade With Flame Retardant
& the Brew From Christmas Trees

Imagine that there’s proof that America’s favorite football drink, Gatorade, is loaded with a dangerous substance. Surely the NFL would jump against the prospect of its faithful fans to be gulping something so toxic, and take steps to ban the stuff, right? Well, not really.
We’ll give the C word a rest after this, but what’s the deal with beer made from Christmas trees? Despite being popular with ancient Scandinavians, who would drink it to prevent scurvy, and certainly for entertainment purposes too, it never really caught on ever since.
We’ll discuss these two crazy beverages in a minute, but let’s open today’s proceedings talking about the other way around: the not so excitable world of sobriety. As it turns out, there’s a surprisingly adverse effect caused by less alcohol consumption, at least in the business world: clients spend less.
Come again? According to a recent Douglas Quenqua story on the NYTimes, there’s an almost insidious prejudice about non-drinkers. The little secret about it is that sober people may be perceived as untrustworthy, and even not very good at executing that killing trade.
It’s a gross misrepresentation, to be sure, akin to mistrust by some abstemious about those who can’t seem to function socially without a cocktail glass in their hands. But the focus of the story is the possible cultural pressure in the business world toward drinking, specially if a crucial sale or a key contract needs to be signed.
And yet, a walk through midtown restaurants at lunch hour may convince anyone that fifty years, and not merely 15, have passed since people used to drink at least a glass of wine spritzer, when sharing lunch with clients or colleagues. Three-Martini power lunches, then, Continue reading

Three First Timers

A Slave & a Woman Went Around the   
World & Marco Polo Did Get to China

Let’s get something out of the way: we’re not particularly keen in rating people and facts by numbers. So it happens that for every person who’s done something first, there’s probably a crowd who either got there before, or opened the doors for others to do it. As for events, the argument about the chicken and the egg is still cooking.
After all, when was the last time you were told, with a straight face, that Christopher Columbus was the first to land in America? But history does consider Marco Polo, Enrique de Malay, and Jean Baret, pioneers. Marco did get to China, it seems, and Enrique, a slave, and Jean, or rather Jeanne, were first to circumnavigate the world.
We’ll get to their travelogues in a minute, but let’s not make an omelet just yet. Yes, the eggs did come first, because of the dinosaurs and all that. What’s still not completely clear is why, of all sentient creatures, it had to be the chicken the one to cross that contentious road, and become such a scientific ruse. At times, it’s all a mere excuse to win a few rounds of drinks. Whatever.
The point is that most of what we call recorded history commits to paper only the touchdown moment, however precise it may be doing it. All the prep work, and the pep talk, and the agonizing nights spent pondering the what-ifs and the probable consequences are largely ignored, and if there’s no moment to crystalize on the record, chances Continue reading

Victorian Secrets

U.K. Celebrates Two Queens;
the World Respectfully Yawns

For many British citizens, Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee is a reason to be jolly, as their monarch completes 60 years as a mainly relic of the U.K.’s gilded past. But while the English don’t mind being called ‘subjects’ of a fading empire, the rest of the world is unmoved. In the U.S., which since its independence has completely upstaged its former lords, the anniversary is a moot point.
Elizabeth Regina took the opportunity to mark another Jubilee, that of Alexandrina Victoria, by posting her last female predecessor’s diaries online. It’s hours of minutia of interest mostly to historian and Anglophiles, and pretty much almost no one else, about the inside-palace goings of life in the 1800s, which the queen was, even if unwittingly, a dominant figure.

Which is not to say that the U.K. for what it represents to the world has become irrelevant. Not yet, anyway. The cradle of a language that’s still vibrant enough to be considered a universal tongue, this tiny island had indeed an oversize role in shaping the world as it came to be, and no other empire since the Romans was as powerful.
It thrived through the Dark and Middle Ages, and wound up dominating the seas during the Discovery Era, defeating all the great fleets of the time, including the Spanish Armada. At the dawn of the 20th century, Great Britain was still controlling a fifth of the world’s population, with the equivalent power to boot.
DICKENSIAN TIMES
Before that, Queen Victoria presided over a period of material prosperity and population explosion throughout the empire, although the times are better encapsulated by the grim social tales of Charles Dickens. They mostly portray a reality of great hardship for the poor, Continue reading

Sunken Ships

Scientists, Astronomers & Women:
Things You Didn’t Know About Pirates

When it comes to pirates, certain die-hard notions have little to do with the historical record, and romanticize what was essentially a brutal time, before, during and after the Discovery Era. For besides the pillaging and mass murdering attached to their lore, paid-for and generously rewarded by the crown to which they served, many a no-less sanguinary brute managed to leave contributions to the sciences and nautical arts that were obscured by their flashier feats.
Take William Dampier, who wrote about Galapagos almost 200 years before Darwin. Or, a century later, Capt. Cook’s detailed notes on the transit of Venus. What about Grace O’Malley, Anna Bunny and Mary Read, fierce female pirates who fought enemies and potential rapists with equal ferocity? With considerable delay, even the MIT got into the buccaneering trail, as it’s been issuing ‘pirate certificates’ for 20 years. And don’t let us get started on the so-called ‘last American pirate.’
To be sure, beyond literature and Hollywood’s caricatural portrayals of pirates along the years, most people have heard of some of real-life scourges of the sea, such as Blackbeard, Capt. Kidd, Barbarossa, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Henry Morgan, Calico Jack, and others, whose lives were alternately celebrated, persecuted, rewarded or simply sent to the gallows and bodies disposed at will.
Many were graced, officially pardoned, chronicled in verse and prose alongside their royal protectors but still, as was often the case and despite all of that, unceremoniously beheaded, either by their enemies, Continue reading