Sunken Past

When a Drought Uncovered Ghost 
Towns & a Scary American Future 

At face value, these ruins hold a certain charm. Cities flooded for progress, they took to the depths a vanishing world of temples and playgrounds. Now they fire up the imagination about lives that laid dormant for so long.
But as they reemerge, a frightful vision of decay awakens, one that a climate gone awry may turn into routine. In Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S., what once stood impervious is now shadows on a beaten land.
Mankind has been using the age-old mechanical power of falling water for thousands of years. But the technological explosion of the Industrial Revolution made it possible to be harnessed in large scale, and the 20th century saw an acceleration of this process.
Soon, these machines were transforming even the most inhospitable areas into arable lands, and the age of massive, miles-wide crops was born. It was far from such a neat progression, but water turbines became as inexorable as the force of nature they were designed to harness.
With power, however, came great irresponsibility. Soon, they were large enough to divert the ancient course of rivers, and favor some land properties over others, richer states rather than needier ones (we’re looking at you, California).

THE GATES OF BLACK CANYON
The Hoover Dam, built to tame the Colorado River in 1935, is seen as one of the 20th century’s greatest architectural marvels, and still provides water and electricity to two million acres in three states. It also killed the town of St. Thomas, and drove some 500 souls away.
Drought conditions, which have worsen since 2002, have now rescued those ruins from the bottom of Lake Mead, and exposed a haunting landscape of half demolished buildings and silence. They’ve also (more)
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Read Also:
* The Third Rock
* Going Under
Continue reading

Murder & Unkindness

Nevermore, or When the Corvus
Talked Through Poe & His Poem

Emissaries of rebirth from the great beyond, or omens of bad things to come in ancient traditions, crows have soared over our imaginations for ages. Scientists are baffled by their social skills, cognitive abilities, and use of tools. Old Aesop may have been onto something after all.
As January 19th marks Edgar Allan Poe’s 206th birthday, and The Raven’s first print 170 years ago this month, we review research being done about the black bird that feasts on carrion and whose collective nouns convey the finality of sudden death and sorrow of lost souls.
Before Claude Lévi-Strauss called the raven a mediator, antiquity took care of inscribing the winged creature into an assortment of narratives and roles, including it in all holy books, from the Talmud to the Bible to the Qur’an, Greek-Roman mythologies and Hindu cosmology.
Old Germanic and English texts also assigned the species a prominent role, and so did Pacific tribes and Native Americans. Which may confer oversized meaning to their annual winter arrival at Waterloo, England, for example, or instances of mass deaths, as it just happened in India.
But before going any further, let’s get the distinction between crows and ravens out of the way. Crows are smaller and live only eight years, to raven’s average 30-year lifespan. Crows, which caw-caw, also live closer to humans; ravens’ croaks are heard mostly in the wild.
A crow’s wing is blunt, and its tail, fan-shaped, while ravens have pointed wings and wedge-shaped tails. All else may not be easily noted because the birds are commonly sighted in parks and cemeteries, where people go to fulfill a function or when they’re, well, dead.

WHO IS BIRD-BRAINED NOW?
We should all be weary of studies comparing the intelligence of radically different species, say primates vs. cetacean, for instance. Mainly because for a long time, we’ve considered cognitive intelligence and social skills to be our monopoly and of a few other animals only.
Also, we still don’t know enough Continue reading

Brick By Brick

The Wall Came Down 25 Years
Ago But Others Remain Defiant

It was a typical public jubilation moment: thousands of happy people, front cover news around the world, an event of political resonance (and appropriation too) and catharsis like few. It happened a generation ago: on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall finally came down.
But just as other similar, long overdue moments have been before it and since, when the symbolic end of the Cold War arrived, it was swift, pregnant with hope, and just as quickly, deeply dissatisfying. A quarter of a century later, we’re bound to question even its relevance.
It didn’t even end the détente, that unbearably nervous post-war time between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that for years paralyzed the world with fear. We now can see it for what it was: just a pro-forma liberation hour, coming late to rubber-stamp its own obsolescence.
But it was a jubilation all the same. Those who endured 28 years of that cruel scar, splitting heart and country in the middle, surely deserved to celebrate it all with gusto. Before long, however, it all wound up in a museum.
Sunday will culminate a week long commemoration, and images of mostly young people climbing crumbling logs of concrete, and a few survivor old timers too, crying like happy babies, will make the headlines. Not as breaking news, though; but as a cultural landmark.
We’ll take it anyway, of course. Times have been hard on reasons to be cheerful, and saturated with the kind of heartbreak that built the wall in the first place. So, heaven forbid if we let such an occasion to be merry pass, and, by all means, let’s have a worldwide party.

KEEPING THEM PEOPLE OUTSIDE
For 20th century standards, the fall of the Berlin Wall was an unbeatable icon of optimism and hope in the future. Some would argue that bottled down anger 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

The Woes Cup

Eleven Fouls in Brazil
That Deserve a Red Card

Among many overinflated sobriquets Brazilians attach to their passion for soccer, ‘the country of futebol,’ which is how the game’s know there, has some truth to it. The only team to have won five times and never missed the World Cup has something to do with it.
But another cliche about football makes sense too: the saying that it’s evolved only within the pitch. For all the exuberance and sophistication of Brazil’s game and culture, beyond the green rectangle, everything else may be as rot as a political dynasty of a banana republic.
Yes, Brazilians are crazy about the filigranes and the curve kicks, the euphoric pass and the gravity-defying goal. But about what it takes to make a street play into a tool for social change, not so much. It’s not their fault, but then again, to some extent, it most surely is.
As many sleepless aficionados agonize about the chances for the national team, the Seleção Brasileira, of winning it all, for a growing segment of the population, the cup won’t change anything, or bring an iota of relief to the daily grind of a still underachieving nation.
Thus we prepared another seleção, of mainly old foes that always stand in the way of Brazil reaching its potential future of land of opportunity to its citizens. To make it instructive and have some fun with it, we associated each of these ‘players’ to real positions in a soccer team.
Defenders, middle-fielders and attackers will be surely engaged during the cup and beyond, doing what they’ve done for ages: preventing fair play, a level field, a clean slate and a win for all. They’re the formidable enemies of Brazil, whether or not it wins the trophy.
One last thing about that: no one knows why Brazilians care so much about the World Cup. The fact that it was chosen to host it for the second time goes way beyond settling old scores; by the looks of it, it’ll be another sad miss, regardless of any magic that Neymar & Co. may bring to the fore.
THE 11 PLAYS TO LOSE
Let’s start with the goalkeeper, Maracanazo. That’s how Brazil’s first national soccer tragedy became known, when it lost the final of the 1950 World Cup to Uruguay, at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium, then the world’s biggest, a disappointment five world titles haven’t erased.
Playing defense, familiar foes: Crime Play has always been there, committed by underpaid cops and gang members; Pollution Kick was raised by untreated sewage, carbon emissions, and lack of infrastructure investments. It’s also related to Traffic Jam, a big player in Brazil’s cities, always ready to clog arteries.
Sex Tourism has for too long been Brazil’s dark side of its supposedly upbeat culture. The fear is not about the socially aware sex workers, but pedophiles and child predators, expected to descend in mass and incognito to Brazil. A dirty and despicable player.
Middle fielder Lethal Accidents has been responsible for a dozen deaths of workers at World Cup construction sites, and it’s wreaking havoc in Brazil’s rising, and invisible, illegal immigrant demographic. Unfortunately, safety and decent labor conditions are still aliens for the current building boom.

FROM MIDDLE TO THE END
Attacking midfielders Blackwater Pass and White Elephant are an odd pair. The infamous U.S.-based war contractor group has been hired by the already truculent Brazilian police and one may expect widespread tragic clashes with civilians. By the way, have you seen the new Robocops to be deployed during the cup?
White Elephant will dot the land as totems to excess and absurd expenditures. Brazil’s building, or reforming, 13 venues, or at least five too many, according to those who saw what happened in Greece, after the Olympic Games: built in cities without even soccer teams, they’re destined to turn into skeletons.

The attack of this team is unlikely to play the jogo bonito associated with the Seleção. Take Cost Overrun, for instance. The most expensive World Cup in history will set Brazil back over $13.7 billion, an amount enough to have put together the 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

Brazuca

World Cup Groups Set, a Weary
Brazil Braces for the June Kickoff

The last regulation act before the start of next summer’s World Cup in Brazil took place yesterday: the tournament’s group drawing and first round schedule. It was pretty much one of the few things that happened on schedule. All else is far from running as smooth.
In fact, all six stadiums being built or redone for the games will miss the December deadline, despite staggering costs (and so far, two casualties). Thus, if one could name a single thing that, for sure, will be doing its part, even if all else fails, that’d be the ball.
But apart from that, an engineering feat named Brazuca, Brazilians remain weary about this tournament, despite their now proverbial, and much manipulated, passion for ‘futebol,’ and of course, that it’s taking place in their land. Not many more reasons to celebrate, otherwise.
In June, dissatisfied with the way billions of dollars were being spent with the cup, while a decrepit network of hospitals and chronically underfunded schools were left to rot, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in mass rallies not seen since the 1980s, when similar crowds effectively ended 20-plus years of military dictatorship.
Such dissatisfaction continues to brew, and by the time the ball starts to roll, pent up anger may be virtually impossible to contain. Some expect that a Brazil win could quell such feelings. Others are not so sure. In fact, while many think a win would be great, nice and all that, there seems to be a better sense of proportion this time around.

READY FOR AN UPSET?
Feeling they’ve been taken for a ride, which is reflected in every aspect of FIFA’s fingers on the setup of the games, from the way the competition is being sold to big wig sponsors to ticket prices, prohibitive to most locals, organizers may not have a clear idea what’s coming on their way.
The case of last month’s spectacular collapse in São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, of the multi-million dollar, overbudget stadium that’s to host the cup opener, which killed two workers and caused significant Continue reading