Vice to Meat Ya

Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil

The short-comings of public campaigns about bad health habits are well known.  One the best selling foods ever is not even food – cheerios. But despite knowing that full well, those who eat it, eat it. Period.
That may illustrate without explaining why chastising people only makes them double down on their ways. Rightly so. After all, healthy eaters don’t necessarily preach about it. They just, well, eat.
In 2017, Brazil got embroiled in a stinky scandal of rotten meat, which was already packaged to be shipped to schools, and exported to its trading partners. Major plants were raided and low management was paraded like criminals straight to jail. Of course, they’re all out now.
The affair is particularly putrid because involves government corruption, and wouldn’t you know it?, and because it exposes once again a multibillion industry which consistently cares little about public health.
But, like the billions spent shaming people about cigarette smoking, with little impact on global tobacco sales, scandals don’t usually dismantle a malodorous industry. Education and awareness do.
Graphic depictions of terminal diseases caused by some nasty habit, tough rhetoric, and draconian laws restricting its practice, do little to curb social habits. A turnaround in public sentiment is all it takes.

NOTHING TO SEE HERE, SAYS THE FOX
In Brazil, social networks reacted to the ‘Carne Fraca’ (weak flesh, as the scandal was called, for some reason) in typical fashion: blame meat eaters. Meat eaters replied in kind. Nastiness ensued, trolls jubilated.
Meanwhile, then pseudo-president Michel Temer (just released on a five-day jail stint) went to a churrascaria to show buyers of Brazilian steak that all was fine. He would’ve gotten away with it, if he wasn’t dumb enough to eat meat imported from Argentina.
Trade partners pressured on, and prices of the commodity collapsed, which is the least that should happen. But will the crisis lead to tighten regulations and stiffen penalties and jail terms and, shock, the closing of some plants? Not likely, of course.
No one was cast out from society for smoking; they just had to take their business to the curb and open air. And restaurant and service workers thanked it all, very much; finally their underwear stopped smelling like an ashtray at the end of the night.
But in major economies, the tobacco industry did take a hit when smoke was stripped of its glamour, and the price tag of the public health damage it causes came finally into light. That happened only after stricter laws went into effect and were dutifully enforced.
Government officials and politicians who lied and hid they were sponsored by big tobacco, were also exposed and put out of business. As for smokers, it’s their business what they take a drag on. No one else needs to follow suit, or berate them.
At the end of the day, scary tactics notwithstanding, to quit smoking remains a deeply personal decision, akin of choosing a particular diet regime, or becoming a vegetarian.
ARE YOU GOING TO FINISH THAT?
Which brings us to the age-old discussion over whether we should or are we even supposed to have the flesh of dead animals as so central a staple of our food consumption.
Growing criticism of the meat industry has reached strident levels. Beyond the usual health-minded professionals, the anti-meat activist movement, and the slow build-up of awareness about animal rights, the industry now is facing a new, formidable foe: climate change.
Scientists are already compiling comprehensive lists of all other contributing factors to climate change, besides our still all-too-encompassing reliance on carbon fuels for energy.
Topping such lists is usually the cycle of raising cattle for human consumption. All over the planet, millions of herds (more)
______
Read Also:
* The Beef Of Going Meatless
* Meatless Time
Continue reading

The Journey

Make the Dream of New
Comers Be America Again

Immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers. But we rarely called them fellow humans. This combative year is ending in grief. The urgency of the times hit like punches, but nothing came close to the brutally of sending troops to crush those knocking on our doors.
It’s beyond ironic that the America built by foreigners could turn so quickly into the land of arguing over walls. How fast we went from taking toddlers to court, to locking them in cages, gassing moms and kids, to letting a 7-year-old die in Border Patrol custody.
Climate crisis, race and social injustice, democracy in mortal danger, some of the curses of the age have paid us a visit or more during 2018. There’s been few breaks, and fewer reasons for celebration. And yet we’re still detaining 14,000 unaccompanied kids.
We’ve just beat an already sickening American record in gunshot victims per year, while a world that includes the U.S., got busy murdering the most journalists. There’s a reward for strangling the truth, and for going after reporters who fact-check and tell it as it is.
Above all, there’s a price on being a witness, and more are needed, as many have already been shut down. We fight climate change for survival, racial hatred for justice, but we must treat everyone with dignity because it’s a moral imperative.

YOUR POOR, HUDDLED MASSES
We don’t dehumanize anyone for wanting to join us. We can’t penalize those who’re fleeing a perpetual bombardment much of our own making. We won’t support those harming them, or driving to erase two of America’s most cherished values: empathy and solidarity.
Throwing immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers into jail cannot be a national policy. There are international agreements we must never back down from. Those knocking on our gates aren’t criminals, (more)
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Read Also:
* First Timers
* Post Postponed
* Crappy Holidays

Continue reading

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

The Ungiven

A Year in the Life of
a Turncoat Saying No

I did it. Or rather, I did not. First, let’s take exception and write this post in the first person, lest no one else take the fall for my unspeakable acts of omission, negligence, and absolute lack of empathy: I have refused to make end-of-the-year donations.
I don’t mean once, or twice, or heaven forbid, three times, but have deleted all desperate emails, coming from all corners of the world, for my urgent help saving individuals, communities, natural resources, ideas, or for Ebenezer Scrooge’s sake, the whole planet.
Worst: not so secretly, I actually enjoy receiving these last-minute solicitations from such noble causes, vainly nursing the obnoxious idea that, somehow, just having been chosen to receive them is a sign of my superior humanitarian condition, and public acknowledgement of my dutifully celebrated goodness.
Feeling so overwhelmed by such displays of goodwill towards my potential to add a savior’s hand to a worthy fight or effort, towards the betterment of mankind, I go to self-centered lengths of congratulating the face in the mirror, for being so gifted and touched by, no question about, a divine inspiration.
Except that I didn’t. Methodically and systematically, I’ve treated them like spam, and as requests intensified by the end of the year, December being the apex of the marathon of sign-ins and petitions, I matched their insistence by shredding it all without even opening.
Never mind what came in through regular mail, tons of envelopes loaded with free addresses and chances to win duffel bags, stuffed animals, bumper stickers, badges to be displayed showing my allegiance, that I judiciously took care of, tearing it all apart with bare hands or scissors.

HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO PROFIT?
I did it without a second thought, and even now, I’m not sure I regret having done it so. After all, they all seemed to be addressed to someone with way deeper pockets than mine, and a bigger heart too, willing to go out of the way and having finger cramps just signing checks or providing credit card numbers.
It all did look as if they were not talking to me, but someone higher up in the big hierarchy of the good giving and the well willing. So, fine, I did feel a bit pressured to perform my very best, and obviously, failed miserably, for otherwise there wouldn’t be reasons for a post like this.
So, I said no, and now I’m saying, I’m sorry, ACLU, AFSC, Alaska Wilderness League, America’s Wolves, Amnesty, AnimalHaven, ASPCA, Audubon, Bird’s Nest, Care, ColorOfChange, Common Dreams, Covenant House, Earthjustice, EEF, FoodBank, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Heifer, and HOPE.
I sincerely apologize League of Women Voters, LGBT, MADRE, Media Matters, Mercy Corps, Mother Jones, Native Americans, Nature Conservancy, Oceana, OpenSecrets, OWS, Oxfam, PETA, PFAW, Pro-Publica, RootsAction, Save the Rainforest, Sierra Club, Smithsonian, Solar & Wind Power, Truth Out, UNICEF, UN Refugee Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists, Utne Reader, WIN, Working Families, and WWF.

WOULD THAT BE CASH OR CARD?
Plus, my deepest regrets for not having heeded the appeals of an assortment of local charities, housing organizations, hunger programs,(more)
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Read Also:
* Trick or Truce
* Sleight of News

Continue reading

The Big Choke

Attention Seven-Sea Travelers:
Plastic Will Be Your Global Host

Here’s something else that gets aggravated with climate change and the rising seas: plastic pollution. From landfills to coastlines, deserted islands to the poles, our insatiable thirst for bottles and straws are choking marine life and killing Earth’s biggest food source. Maybe because we treat it that way.
Ok, so you’ve heard all about this before, but now isn’t the best time to think about it, for you’re taking off on vacation. Fine, but here’s a spoiler alert: masses of stray plastic are likely to greet you at every destination you may land, no matter how remote or exotic.
Granted, there’s a level of undisguised jealously in bringing this up, just in time some lucky few are planning a deserving time off. The way it goes, though, it may get even worse by the time the other 95% finally have their turn by the beach under the sun.
In the end, we all pay for this waste one way or another. That is, us, who trade the future for a little comfort. For much of what’s happening out there in the open sea got started at our own oh so cozy homes.
That’s not blaming, only a much needed accountability for dead turtles and sea birds, guts busted open with spilled containers and utensils, whose pictures are all over the Internet. Still, we insist on having that extra plastic bag, or iPhone case, at our local retailer.

WHAT TO DO? LOOK AROUND THE HOUSE
What follows debunks naggers’ excuses. There are things one can do, and they are a lot. A number of sites list hundreds of steps anyone can take to gradually eliminate plastic from their lives. Not all of it, for sure, but most of it.
Besides consulting them and checking how much effort you need to put in order to accomplish something towards ocean plastic pollution – and you do need to put on an effort -, you may also use your common sense and take a good look around your place.
Do you have a million plastic bags, for garbage and shopping? A bunch of tupperware containers under the sink? Do you store food and beverages in plastic bottles in your fridge? A load of broken pens and useless things laying around? There you go. Start by these; you’d be surprised (maybe), at how far it all gets.

WHAT NOT TO RELY UPON? RECYCLING
We know you’re diligent separating your recyclables; we spied on you through the camera of your plastic-clad laptop (just kidding). You even know that, apart from sorting your rejects out, you also make sure you drop each pile in different bins.
Good for you. Just don’t dump it and forget it. Have you seen those spilled garbage bags on the streets, that fell out of sanitation trucks? Don’t blame the underpaid guys and relax, no one will ask you to pick them up or after anybody else.
But do not expect your city recycling companies to have it all covered. Yes, they’re for profit enterprises, but by far much more important than some industries you patronize. So be sure them, and your elected representatives, know you do care about and value their work.

WHAT DON’T YOU KNOW? IT’S OUT OF CONTROL
You may have heard that there are now a number of patches of garbage, like the Texas-sized Great Pacific Gyre, floating far from any land. But what about Henderson Island, which certainly may have a least one plastic item you’ve disposed sometime last year. Like it, there are also many others.
You may’ve also heard of the battle to force Coca-Cola to pitch in the collection of millions of water bottles that are dumped in the Grand Canyon every year, right? Well, if no one talks about it, it’s because Coke weaseled it out of its responsibilities. So, the bottles are still there.
Now, the same is happening in the high seas, and plastic (more)
_______
Read Also:
* Last Drops
* Faux Jellyfish
* Beneath the Waves

Continue reading

Vice to Meat Ya

Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil

The short-comings of public campaigns about bad health habits are well known.  One the best selling foods ever is not even food – cheerios. But despite knowing that full well, those who eat it, eat it. Period.
That may illustrate without explaining why chastising people only makes them double down on their ways. Rightly so. After all, healthy eaters don’t necessarily preach about it. They just, well, eat.
A week ago, Brazil got embroiled in a stinky scandal of rotten meat, which was already packaged to be shipped to schools, and exported to its trading partners. Major plants were raided and low management was paraded like criminals straight to jail.
The affair is particularly putrid because involves government corruption, and wouldn’t you know it?, and because it exposes once again a multibillion industry which consistently cares little about public health.
But, like the billions spent shaming people about cigarette smoking, with little impact on global tobacco sales, scandals don’t usually dismantle a malodorous industry. Education and awareness do.
Graphic depictions of terminal diseases caused by some nasty habit, tough rhetoric, and draconian laws restricting its practice, do little to curb social habits. A turnaround in public sentiment is all it takes.

NOTHING TO SEE HERE, SAYS THE FOX
In Brazil, social networks reacted to the ‘Carne Fraca’ (weak flesh, as the scandal was called, for some reason) in typical fashion: blame meat eaters. Meat eaters replied in kind. Nastiness ensued, trolls jubilated.
Meanwhile, the pseud0-president went to a churrascaria to show buyers of Brazilian steak, that all was fine, and would’ve gotten away with it, if he wasn’t dumb enough to eat meat imported from Argentina.
Trade partners pressured on, and prices of the commodity collapsed, which is the least that should happen. But will the crisis lead to tighten regulations and stiffen penalties and jail terms and, shock, the closing of some plants? No likely, of course.
No one was cast out from society for smoking; they just had to take their business to the curb and open air. And restaurant and service workers thanked it all, very much; finally their underwear stopped smelling like an ashtray at the end of the night.
But in major economies, the tobacco industry did take a hit when smoked was stripped of its glamour, and the price tag of the public health damage it causes came finally into light. That happened only after stricter laws went into effect and were dutifully enforced.
Government officials and politicians who lied and hid they were sponsored by big tobacco, were also exposed and put out of business. As for smokers, it’s their business what they take a drag on. No one else needs to follow suit, or berate them.
At the end of the day, scary tactics notwithstanding, to quit smoking remains a deeply personal decision, akin of choosing a particular diet regime, or becoming a vegetarian.
ARE YOU GOING TO FINISH THAT?
Which brings us to the age-old discussion over whether we should or are we even supposed to have the flesh of dead animals as so central a staple of our food consumption.
Growing criticism of the meat industry has reached strident levels. Beyond the usual health-minded professionals, the anti-meat activist movement, and the slow build-up of awareness about animal rights, the industry now is facing a new, formidable foe: climate change.
Scientists are already compiling comprehensive lists of all other contributing factors to climate change, besides our still all-too-encompassing reliance on carbon fuels for energy.
Topping such lists is usually the cycle of raising cattle for human consumption. All over the planet, millions of herds (more)
______
Read Also:
* The Beef Of Going Meatless
* Meatless Time
Continue reading

Thinking With Tentacles

Mad Penguins & Whale Accents
in the Court of the Octopus King

Research into the natural world has been a reliable way of gauging our walk on this planet, and where we’re probably heading to. But a new approach, devoid of any rancid anthropomorphism, has offered fresh insights into animal intelligence. And the results are remarkable.
Heard the one about whales with a Caribbean accent? Or penguins having sex parties wilder than drunken priests? But no one was ready to witness an octopus opening a jar from inside, or sneaking out at night to feed on crabs nearby, before returning to its tank. Or not.
What these and other animals prove is that cognitive ability is not a human monopoly. In fact, whenever the need to compare them with us is subtracted from the equation, crows, cephalopods, and pigeons, to name a few, can outsmart a thinking bloke often in a radical way.
Evolution has proposed alternatives to some species so far from our own, that they could be almost aliens raised in Pluto for we know. Since we no longer equate physiology with identity, it’d be better get acquainted with mental prowess that owes nothing to rationality.
Not that we even apply it to everything, and yes, to us, there is something wrong with that. But elephants have always cried of sadness, and chickens do side up with individuals in danger. We were just too busy trading their tusk for the ivory, or simply eating them, to pay any attention.

ADÉLIES JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Let’s get this out of the way: penguins are not humans, thus morality is not an issue, even if a colony, in the distance, looks like a black-tie cocktail party. And for belting out loud, the Adélies have nothing on the singing lady Adele. But when it comes to parties, theirs do get wild.
During Capt. Scott‘s second, and doomed, trip to Antarctica, between 1910-13, George Murray Levick wrote of widespread necrophilia, males sexually coercing young chicks, before killing them, and shock, having sex with other males. To him, it was ‘depravity,’ and his notes (in Ancient Greek, to harden access to them) went missing.
Till now: they’ve been uncovered and bad ‘science’ journalism have ensued, of course. But the biggest recent news about the Adélie had nothing to do with sex. In February, it was reported that 150,000 penguins died, after being landlocked by the fracture of a giant iceberg.
But it was a hoax, better researched stories have confirmed. Neither sex fiends nor massacred by climate change, yet, penguins are just, once again, being victims of bad reporting. Why we care has nothing to do with humanity either: they just look like us. We’re already changing their history. Time to tell their stories way better, too.

DEEP SONGS & ACCENTED CLICKS
Since at least the 1970s, news about whales is always surprising, even as their numbers keeping receding towards extinction. The size of their brains, rich social lives, their songs, complex and uniquely identified with their pods. And then there’s the loneliest of them all.
The fact that research into these massive but elusive species has reached such a level of sophistication is, in itself, (more)
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Read Also:
* Beneath the Waves
* Eerie Impersonation
* The Saddest Song
Continue reading

Cold Turkey

A Bird With Multiple Names, Two
Countries & Some Holiday Mash

This was supposed to be the definitive post on why turkeys are called turkeys, what they have to do with Turkey and Peru, and why would anyone care about it.
Instead, it turned out to be just another holiday stupor, a tipsy search on the Internet and a million half-funny comments on why no one seems to have a clear idea.
So, risking making the article almost shorter than its headline, let’s just cover the highlights, while we check the oven and get properly loaded before the guests have parked at the curb.
Americans (including William Burroughs) have held Thanksgiving very dear to their hearts because the holiday is based on a historical folktale and, to this day, it’s still a family gathering by excellence in ways religious dates could never be.
Granted, at this point in time, it’s no longer all about the turkey. Aunts have various dietary needs. Some care only for the sweet potatoes and cranberry jam. And children became vegan and will have their own Tofurkey.
The cooking frenzy that used to animate families of yore have since lost much of its luster with the advent of live football and the Macy’s Parade on TV.
Besides, arguments usually ensue even before all relatives have arrived (more)
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Read Also:
* Meatless Time
* It’s Your Bird’s Day

Continue reading

Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees

The Unbearable Silence of
Disappearing Pollinators

Be quiet for a moment. Can you hear it? Probably not, but it’s not all your fault. The sound that is missing is the buzzing of billions of bees, that have been disappearing at an alarming rate lately. And the deafening silence from most people, who remain aloof to all of it.
They’re up to a rude awakening, however. Managed care of honeybees, used to pollinate a third of U.S. foods, is on the verge of collapsing, in synch with the insects’ own collapse because of, you guessed it, our own doing. And the proposed solution won’t be enough to stop it.
Consider the Obama administration’s plan, announced this week, to counter a 42% loss of colonies reported last year by U.S. beekeepers. It’s been greeted with dismay by environmentalists because it doesn’t address the key factor that may be single-handedly causing their demise: a new class of pesticide.
Neonicotinoid insecticides were developed by Shell and Bayer as a milder alternative to other pesticides. Instead, soon enough they too became linked to even worse environment effects, top among them, the honeybee colony collapse disorder. That’s why their use is already restricted in European Union nations.
Thus, it’d be logical to expect that the EPA, underfunded as it is, would be charged with controlling and enforcing its phasing out, given the alarm sounded by apiaries. Not so fast, apparently; despite a year worth of petitions to ban neonicotinoids, the new proposal simply ignores it.
But it’s not all bad. Even critics cite the restoration of seven million acres of bee-friendly areas, lost to urbanization, as a positive step included in the plan. It’ll all depend on the bees, however, since as it happens, they seem now prone to get addicted to other sources of sweets. In that case, we’re all doomed.
Or not. Many doubt that the eventual disappearance of bees will bring about such an apocalyptical scenario. They think it’s too melodramatic. Then again, they don’t usually care for fruits. Or vegetables. Or, what the hell, nature. Neither they see a problem when dolphins die, so you do the math.
We could do without so much sweets (or repeats, for that matter) but we do value the fruits and veggies undocumented immigrants and their families work their asses off to bring to us. So if not for the birds and the bees, then at least for the humans who may be breathing neonicotinoids too, let’s say it’s time.
It’d be dumb to discard the stunning beauty by which pollinators and specially bees grace this world, on behalf of our pedestrian mores. Between them and us, it’s hard to say which is the clear favorite. And speaking of repeating ourselves, here’s a post we’ve published over a year ago on the subject.

Bee Friends Ask Lovers of Roses
& Chocolate to Help Save Colonies

A number of environmental groups have chosen Valentine’s Day week last year to remind everyone in general, and lovers in particular, that the massive disappearance of bees continues on but, as far as we now know, it can still be halted.
Their timing is appropriate. That mostly shopping holiday, treasured by precious few but still feverishly cheered by many, is a major sales day for roses and chocolate, and neither will be around for the taking for too long, if pollinators are to die off.
As a matter of fact, nor will human folk, if Albert Einstein was right in his grim prediction. Whether the quote is apocryphal or not, $30 billion worth of U.S. crops face the catastrophic threat of not surviving many more winters without enough bees to assure their pollination.
If that happens, it wouldn’t be for lack of warnings, just like climate change and the annual extinction of Continue reading

Partial Recall

Memories of the Future, or    
What We Forget to Recollect

Guess what? It may be a good thing that you can’t remember what they’ve told you about your memories. As it turns out, you don’t have to be a savant, or try to associate facts with objects, or colors, or smells. It won’t hurt if you do, but either way, it won’t make much of a difference to most, in the big scheme.
Some exercise their recalling skills like a muscle. Others picture things as if in a photograph. People either struggle to remember or choose to forget. And yes, there are those genius. But if you’re none of the above, no reason to despair; it’s been quite a while since we too gave up all hope of ever finding that extra set of keys anyway.
We could save some time and say that science has no clue, but that would be an over-simplification. The more researchers dig, the more distractions they find, affecting how we remember things, produce memories, and even adopt somebody else’s recollections. One thing is for sure: some people are really prodigies recalling details of the past.
How we deal with our memories is, of course, highly personal. We strive to portray our private history as an accurate and favorable reflection of who we think we are. But many things conspire against such a seamless narrative, the first thing being exactly that: the narrative.
To tell the story, we need to make sense and fill in the blanks, the details that reality not always provides. It’s also disturbing to come across someone who has a different take on the same events. But that’s exactly what siblings and spouses often do. Not to go overboard here, but that’s why we sometimes hate them so much.

THE WEATHER ON FEB. 23, 1975
How do you call someone who didn’t walk until he was four, couldn’t button up his own shirt, had trouble with even the most basic motor skills, had an average 87 I.Q. and, nevertheless, could recall every single weather report going back over 40 years? a Rain Man, or his Continue reading

The Have Nothings

Ten Bullets in the
Chamber of Inequality

Thousands of bloggers worldwide are posting stories about inequality today. Oxfam International has partnered with the annual Blog Action Day to boost a global discussion on glaring social contrasts affecting 7-billion plus of your fellow beings. Wherever you are on Earth, you know exactly what that’s all about.
We’ve chosen a popular format, the Top Ten List, and the world’s most powerful country for context. Far from comprehensive, however, no number of bullet points can explain why the haves have accumulated so much more than the have nots. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far.
BUDGET CUTS – Americans have yet another reason to be startled lately: the Ebola virus which, even if not quite the epidemic the media has been painting it, it’s still enough to worry. National Institute of Health’s Dr. Francis Collins offered a sound theory for why we’re having such a hard time controlling its spread, and treating the infected. Development of an Ebola vaccine has been hampered by years of budget cuts for scientific research. If it’s happening with the health scare du jour, picture what’s going on with more basic research, on illnesses affecting many more people. Funding for war, on the other hand, has continued to grow. That’s inequality.
FEDERAL JOBS – When politicians want to sound competent, they talk about balancing the budget. But it’s never implied what that really means: firing teachers, cops, firefighters, postal workers, i.e., those who serve the majority in this country, their families and children. With less of them having a decent paycheck to live on and provide to their own, more of us have to do their jobs ourselves, in a vicious cycle that only affects the middle to low classes. Since the rich can afford to hire private help, that’s inequality.
CONGRESS SALARIES – Last time the government was shut down, most of its activities were kept to a minimum, if not in a temporary freeze. Except salaries taxpayers pay their representatives – an average of $174,000 a year, never mind housing, living expenses, and the best health care available. Since the median American household income is $50,000, that is, my friends, inequality.
WEALTH RATIO – Speaking of it, a widely accepted way to measure it is the wealth to household income ratio. Now, according to a Credit Suisse report, it’s the highest it’s been since, wouldn’t you know it?, the Great Depression was about to crush America. Even the bank thinks that can’t be good. In ‘other’ news, the richest 1 percent now owns 48 percent of all the world’s wealth. We know, we were only focusing on the U.S. but just couldn’t help it. Mainly because, you guessed it, it’s inequality too.
WALL STREET EARNINGS – Which brings us ‘home,’ to the gilded realm of financial institutions, the same ones that brought the world to the brink of collapse with their 2008 excesses. As it turns out, they’re all doing quite well, thanks for not asking. In fact, the earnings season that’s just started may be one for the books, but it’s OK if you see, say, JPMorgan Chase, the biggest one, posting a $5.6 billion net income, and feel a little queasy. They literally broke the bank, got a taxpayer bailout, no CEO went to jail, and now are posting quarterly earnings in the billions; those folks sure know how to party in Lower Manhattan, and that, you working stiffs, is inequality.
CORPORATE TAXES – As one of the 243 million U.S. taxpayers, you know that the probability of being audited is not negligible: the currently understaffed IRS has called back only about two million Americans to explain their taxes, in 2011, one of its lowest numbers in years. But if you were one of what the Supreme Court considers people too, a big corporation, chances are, you wouldn’t be called at all. That’s because many of them don’t pay taxes. Even those that do, like Boeing, DuPont, Wells Fargo, Verizon, GE, and Dow Chemicals, of their combined profit realized between 2008 and 2010, each American got back the grand total of a penny in taxes.
WOMEN’S EQUAL PAY & RACIAL GAP – One can argue that structural and systemic flaws can often be a bigger factor in denying every citizen his or her due in society than race and class. But the fact that a woman still earns 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, doing the same work, and unemployment, imprisonment, and illiteracy, are higher for African-Americans is simply too overwhelming to ignore. While the wealth gap between white and black families nearly tripled from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009, according to the not-too-trusted Wikipedia, if you’re black AND a woman, things are even bleaker. A recent report cites bigger barriers to accessing care and healthy lifestyles, higher infant mortality, and fewer insured among both black and Hispanic women compared to whites. That’s a double yummy of race and class conspiring against the new majority of Americans. And that’s inequality. Continue reading

Soup to Nuts

The Office Thief, The Chinese
Sitters & the Three-Boob Woman

Knowingly or not, we all play parts in the staging of someone else’s drama. Some are petty and ruin the proceedings, as others, humbly, master the hapless roles. Yet, there are those whose self-immolating act may make them come out stronger by the end of the third act.
Let’s start with that infamous office jester, the refrigerator thief who plagues the world of company stiffs and often gets away with it. We catch up with line sitters, camping on the streets to get persons unknown the latest iPhone. And on to Jasmine Tridevil’s sideshow.
Although on the surface, these vivid showcases of human frailty seem utterly different from one another, clear commonalities emerge from their underpinnings. They’re enough to bring it all down to a few, basic strains that reveal how we connect with others, or at least, the way we strive to annoy the hell out of them.
But what’s most fascinating about these three instances is how interchangeable is the role each character plays. Just like in the theater, the perceived villains may hold more humanity in their actions than we would care to give them credit for. And the heroes are hardly as virtuous as a cheap movie plot would have them.
Thus, through his mischief, the office jerk may reveal the brutal turf war that goes unmentioned all around the exposed company cubicles. Also, the arbitrary justice ready to be exacted by some anonymous bureaucrat from behind a fancy shield with a name attached – notwithstanding the indispensable victim role.
The professional ‘exploited’ may be turning a profit few would dream of from such a harsh occupation, even if, or given that, to many, standing in line to get the latest gadget is not just a waste of time, but completely below their sense of worth. Also, never mind that some organized crime may be behind the whole scheme.
And speaking of exploiting, how can anyone blame the sheer showmanship er displayed, or almost, by a self-inventing woman bent into becoming a reality TV star? Whether it’s an unhealthy step, or a mere hoax, she has all the right to crave for the attention, for it will be giveth to her, anytime, any day. Enjoy the ride.

TURKEY & SWISS ON RYE
It happened in New Zealand as it could have anywhere else. Office hands may know the script very well: your lunch gets eaten, anonymously; you write your grievance on a note; thief refuses to bulge; you surrender to moaning; thief may be revealed, if ever, by sheer luck, or well-honed snitching. Or some variation of the theme.
This time, the whole saga and its profusely descriptive notes, exchanged between the unconscionably jester and his victim, went viral on a New Zealand Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Climate Alarm Went Off, Colltalers

The U.N. Climate Summit, which starts tomorrow in New York, is a last-ditch effort by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to engage governments and corporations in the climate change issue. It’s also a way to prevent next year’s official conference in Paris from turning into a complete fiasco.
Thus, just in case the urgency of the matter is lost to those decision makers, thousands have marched yesterday in major cities around the world, to demand action and pressure political and corporate leaders, who so far, have shown an appalling, less-than-enthusiastic response to the crisis.
As the decision to call up the summit has been criticized by many, for giving equal footing in the conversation to both governments dedicated to increase environmental protection rules, and well-known polluters, it may also put the spotlight on both parties’ true intentions. Just as the rallies, which were organized by climate organizations, seemed to have underlined a powerful message: we, the world, will be watching you.
And the U.S., as usual, has an oversized role to play, if it chooses to do so. Or should we say, a lot of catch up to do, since the Bush administration decided, in 2001, to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, an already timid agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Whereas measures such as carbon capture or increased taxation were also on the table, overall, the protocol did have its shortcomings. But the U.S.’s rejection opened the floodgates and gave tacit approval to the fossil-fuel energy industry to boost even more oil drilling in pristine regions, and ramp up coal prospection, ultimately giving rise to highly pollutant new technologies such as fracking.
It’s been since a costly game of hide and seek by American officials, both from the Bush and Obama administrations, as the oil and gas industry continues to dictate the nation’s energy policy, and investments in alternatives remain plagued by partisan gridlock in the U.S. congress.
Speaking of costs, Ban Ki-moon’s has emphasized that policies with a minimal chance of being effective have to be backed by hard cash. The richest among the 125 nations Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Dignity Collectors, Colltales

If you’re an American resident, you may live in a household that owes $15K in credit card debt. If there’s a mortgage, its outstanding debt may be $150K. And if there’s one or more college students sharing your last name, then there’s another $33K each to be added to the bill.
Thus, without counting living expenses, just the fact that you live in the world’s richest country means that you’re also one of its most indebted human beings. No wonder that, amid a troubled economy, there’s a seemingly unbeatable business, reaping profits: debt collection agencies.
Now, the data above may be gathered via Internet under the grand total of 5 minutes or less. No need to add insult, reminding those who owe money how hard it is to even make it, either. There’s a crucial, invisible, component to this dire calculation, however, that most are unaware of.
And what average Americans don’t know about their own debt can actually ruin them, and it’s actually already doing it, stealthily. That is because, pinch your nose and hold your breath, no matter the amount that they owe, it has already being sold over for pennies on the dollar.
This devious aspect of consumer debt is the hidden side behind the moralistic rhetoric of Dickensian concepts such as ‘living within one’s means’ and ‘personal responsibility.’ For these are all sound and truthful only and for as long as those who owe money remain indebted.
The financial system, and in fact the entire economy, rest on the notion that debt is as much a factor of their liquidity as earned income and capital invested. But while for a government, the amount of debt is often an indication that it’s being used to build and provide infrastructure so to support the functioning of society, for an individual, such amount is indicative of his or her ability to receive more or less credit.
Contrary to concerns of the ultra-rich, it’s not a government’s highest priority to be debt-free, as long as it’s under a well-determined balance of spending and output. But for individuals, such condition is often the key to opportunities for material improvement and security. As it happens, unlike governments, one can’t issue debt to cover bills, so if you owe money, you need to pay it up, and fast.
Unfortunately, while a different set of rules applies to the wealthy, for the rest of us, falling into debt is often a condition that leads to even more indebtedness, and even social ruin. So we may struggle and skip meals to pay that bill on time, and not having to be burdened by higher rates.
That’s when that utterly non-productive but highly profitable industry comes into play: the collection business. Most people think that its job is to contact debtors on behalf of creditors, work some kind of plan, collect a commission for their service, and be on their way. Since there are plenty of people behind on their bill payment schedules, one would think that’s enough of a business. They’d be wrong, of course.
A debt collection agency’s main purpose is to purchase people’s debts, and they do so, legally, by pennies on the dollar. (To find out exactly how much less than the principal they’d pay for your debt is one of those Internet searches that will take way more than five minutes to know.)
But the moment they purchase your debt, you have, in practice, two creditors coming after you: that agency, and your original credit card company, or mortgage holder, or online gaming provider, or retailer of specialty bras, whoever you owe money to. While the agency may offer you a deal, your original creditor will most likely not, adding instead, a stiff rate and penalties for your non payment.
Now, at this point, while you scramble to sell stuff on eBay, or contact that distant relative/friend who owe you money, in order to come up with some to quench the monster, you debt is already on its way to change hands yet again. The agency that’s still sending you letters proposing you to settle, is also negotiating to sell that debt, again at a discount, to yet another agency, which may, you guessed it, come after you too.
You’d ask, how can this be possible, that one bill’s default has potentially generated two others, and you’re being charged the original amount even as third-parties are buying it at a discount? Well, it’s a loophole or it’s a way for the system to feed itself, even as it pressures you to stop feeding yourself, so to speak. Also, by now, you may be wisen up to the scheme and thinking, why can’t I buy my own debt for pennies too?
You can’t, as a matter of fact. Or you could, if you become, yourself, a licensed debt broker. We don’t know how are the job prospects on that market, so it’s up to you. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Plastic Oh, No, Band, Colltalers

‘I just want to say one word to you. Just one word… Are you listening? Plastics.’ That was the career advice offered to Benjamin Braddock, in the 1967 movie The Graduate. If the word was just a joke then, almost 50 years later, it now defines our way of life and may point to our demise.
Its presence permeates almost everything considered essential to our living in this planet, plastic may also choke to death its lifeline, the oceans. Everyday, millions of discarded pieces of it reach the world’s waterways and join what’s an already incalculable amount of floating garbage.
In fact, in this past half century, we’ve seen how insidious plastic clogging the world oceans has become: it has been found everywhere, from vast extensions, forming giant invisible islands of flotsam, to deep under the Arctic seas, and out of dead seabirds’ bursted open stomachs full of it.
As part of our daily life, it’s also all over: in the computer where this post is being composed to cellphones, medicine bottles, to product packaging, food containers, to throwaway utensils. It’s almost discouraging to realize how hard it’d be for us do dig ourselves out of this lifestyle hole.
But perhaps not all is lost. Two of the more ominous of its uses may represent both a way out and a method to wean ourselves from such pervasive product: plastic bags and bottles. They both encapsulate extremes of our societal behavior and offer interesting metaphors to our way of living.
Take bags, for instance, banned this past week in California, which may be one of the most important steps taken against plastic pollution since recycling rules have been instituted in the U.S. A positive sign, indeed, that should ignite a chain reaction and lead to a nationwide ban.
Created solely out of convenience, these bags are utterly replaceable, and yet, have a level of adherence in all walks of life that would baffle social scientists searching for common habits shared by all classes. It’s, however, one of the most environment-damaging habits we could possibly partake.
So a ban, as it’s being pursued in New York and other states, and following some European countries, would represent a big step towards controlling ocean pollution, where they inevitably wind up, after decades in landfills. Would a ban also instill a reflexion on our shopping obsessions? Nah.
The other ominous use of polymers is even more ridden with the contradictions of our very own highfalutin approach to a natural lifestyle: bottles. Drinking bottled water became one the most terrible by-products of the ‘living healthy’ movement, one that added millions of tons of plastic to our already 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

The Whirled Cup

Five Bullet Points On Brazil

& a Split-Decision to Strike

World Cup 2014 LogoYou may not know this but to most past World Cup hosts, the occasion was for national joy and jubilation, if not much for settling social scores. Brazil, though, is not buying into that placid template: in case you haven’t got the memo, Brazilians are actually angry.
They may have a point. But apart from all disturbing news about the (poor) preparations for the world’s biggest sports event that starts next week in São Paulo, here are five curiosities that go from the promising to the ‘peculiar’ to the far out.
We’ll get to them. But about that anger and the unsettling news: yes, it’s all true. The most expensive World Cup in history may turn out to be, arguably, the turnaround for Brazil’s dreams of being perceived as a global power, capable of handling its moment in the spotlight with composure.
A quick review of the staggering numbers shows that Brazilians are paying between $13 to $18 billion for the right to stage the games, but most of it has been invested either in riches that will quickly evaporate from the country, coming August, or will rot in some stadia built in the middle of nowhere.
Over 200 thousand people have been displaced to accommodate infrastructure projects for the cup and for the 2016 Olympic Games, also to take place in Brazil, according to a Mother Jones infographic, but many of such projects may not be finished for the opening kickoff, or may remain incomplete forever.
Discontent with the way funds have been diverted from needed and more permanent works, and public perception that President Dilma Rousseff hasn’t been fully cognizant to how Brazilians feel left out of the big party, have taken the country by storm and may only get louder during the cup.
In fact, she does seem less concerned about them than how the massive street rallies critical to what was supposed to be a celebration of Brazilians’ passion for the game, will impact the estimated one billion worldwide, expected to follow the month long competition.
But even as those problems have been called out over and over, and may be inseparable from the games this time around, it doesn’t mean we’re not working hard to provide you with some interesting alternatives to experience it all, insights that may be unique to this particular edition. And here they are:
1. THE WALKING STEAD
Talking about the opening kickoff, few know that, technically, it won’t be given by a human foot. Or it’ll but not exactly how one’d expect it. If all goes well, on June 12, a paralyzed person will walk on the field wearing an exoskeleton created by Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis.
The technology behind the mind-controlled full-body suit has the potential to revolutionize mobility for millions of people. It’s not the first time that robotics is applied this way, but it still scores a kick in the arse of common indignities associated with being handicapped.
No word yet on who’ll be walking towards the middle of the Arena Corinthians and, with a thought or two, command the suit to help the foot kick the Brazuca. But you can bet your soccer shoes that, for many around the world, it’ll be as historical as the tournament’s winning goal.

2. WELCOME TO FAVELA INN
Some six million soccer fans are expected for the games, the last of them probably on their way in as we speak. But so is a severe hotel room shortage, with prices upwards of $380 a night to boot. So what choices a late comer has to rest their tired bones and avoid crashing in some godforsaken public square?
What about a shantytown? For a bargain $30, one can find a place to stay in one of the thousands of tiny houses, cramped together like jigsaw pieces, in one of Brazil’s hundreds of favelas, conveniently located in most state capitals and often with a much better ocean view than many a pricy hotel.
After all, this is a country where the so-called informal economy Continue reading

Crossed Pollinators

Bee Friends Ask Lovers of Roses
& Chocolate to Help Save Colonies

A number of environmental groups have chosen this Valentine’s Day week to remind everyone in general, and lovers in particular, that the massive disappearance of bees continues on but, as far as we now know, it can still be halted.
Their timing is appropriate. This mostly shopping holiday, treasured by precious few but still feverishly cheered by many, is a major sales day for roses and chocolate, and neither will be around for the taking for too long, if pollinators are to die off.
As a matter of fact, nor will human folk, if Albert Einstein was right in his grim prediction. Whether the quote is apocryphal or not, $30 billion worth of U.S. crops face the catastrophic threat of not surviving many more winters without enough bees to assure their pollination.
If that happens, it wouldn’t be for lack of warnings, just like climate change and the annual extinction of countless flora and fauna species. The ongoing tragedy of bee Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been quickly intensifying, is a result of yet another man-made folly.
To be sure, there’s not one single cause. But what was initially blamed solely into infections caused by the Varroa and Acarapis mites, has now pointed to the conclusion that for many should’ve have been obvious all along: neonicotinoids, a lethal class of pesticides.
Used for years on corn, soy and other crops, they may not kill bees directly, or other insects that are part of the chain of pollination crucial for the survival of any crop, for that matter. But the way they act is just as damaging, entomologists say.

SOMETHING IN THE POLLEN
Between the varroa mite, now considered one of the most contagious insect viruses on the planet, and a profit-busting industry of pesticides, hope for bees is quickly dwindling. If consumers stay quiet, that is. That’s what many environmental organizations are seeking to reverse.
When neonicotinoids began showing up in bee pollen, a team of 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

The Ungiven

A Year in the Life of
a Turncoat Saying No

I did it. Or rather, I did not. First, let’s take exception and write this post in the first person, lest no one else take the fall for my unspeakable acts of omission, negligence, and absolute lack of empathy: I have refused to make end-of-the-year donations.
I don’t mean once, or twice, or heaven forbid, three times, but have deleted all desperate emails, coming from all corners of the world, for my urgent help saving individuals, communities, natural resources, ideas, or for Ebenezer Scrooge’s sake, the whole planet.
Worst: not so secretly, I actually enjoy receiving these last-minute solicitations from such noble causes, vainly nursing the obnoxious idea that, somehow, just having been chosen to receive them is a sign of my superior humanitarian condition, and public acknowledgement of my own goodness.
Feeling so overwhelmed by such displays of goodwill towards my potential to add a savior’s hand to a worthy fight or effort, towards the betterment of mankind, I go to self-centered lengths of congratulating the face in the mirror, for being so gifted and touched by, no question about, a divine inspiration.
Except that I didn’t. Methodically and systematically, I’ve treated them all like spam, and as the quests for help intensified towards the end of the year, December being the very apex of the marathon of sign-ins and petitions, I matched it all with equal intensity by sending them all to trash.
Never mind what came in through regular mail, tons of envelopes stuffed with free addresses and chances to win duffel bags, stuffed animals, bumper stickers, badges to be displayed showing my allegiance, that I judiciously took care of, tearing it all apart with bare hands or scissors.

WHY SHOULD I?
I did it without a second thought, and even now, I’m not sure I regret having done it so. After all, they all seemed to be addressed to someone with way deeper pockets than mine, and a bigger heart too, willing to go out of the way and having finger cramps just signing checks or providing credit card numbers.
It all did look as if they were not talking to me, but someone higher up in the big hierarchy of the good giving and the well willing. So, fine, I did feel a bit pressured to perform my very best, and obviously, failed miserably, for otherwise there wouldn’t be reasons for a post like this.
So, I said no, and now I’m saying, I’m sorry, ACLU, AFSC, Alaska Wilderness League, America’s Wolves, Amnesty, AnimalHaven, ASPCA, Audubon, Bird’s Nest, Care, ColorOfChange, Common Dreams, Covenant House, Earthjustice, EEF, FoodBank, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Heifer, and HOPE.
I sincerely apologize League of Women Voters, LGBT, MADRE, Media Matters, Mercy Corps, Mother Jones, Native Americans, Nature Conservancy, Oceana, OpenSecrets, OWS, Oxfam, PETA, PFAW, Pro-Publica, RootsAction, Save the Rainforest, Sierra Club, Smithsonian, Solar & Wind Power, Truth Out, UNICEF, UN Refugee Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists, Utne Reader, WIN, Working Families, and WWF.

LACK OF ATLAS
Plus, my deepest regrets for not having heeded the appeals of an assortment of local charities, housing organizations, hunger programs, Continue reading

Thanksgivukkah

A Holiday Combo
& a Smashed Comet

It happened before and, if you’re not in a hurry, it’ll happen again. Good luck with that, though. And good luck with one of the most loaded of the American holidays, both celebrated and vilified for its special brand of family time, the kind that often verges on murder.
Thanksgiving, which after Thursday, will only conflate with Hanukka again in the year 79811, is being called Thanksgivukkah this time around, in what Wikipedia insists is a portmanteau but that’s not for reasons we’re sure our illustrious readership knows so well.
As if eating overfed, extra-hormone stuffed, hardly a bird at this point at all, turkey were not enough, we’re already feeling lazy and not up to the task to add yet another exquisite commentary to the joyous occasion (for some, naturally, not the turkeys).
After some three years, we did accumulate a nice share of posts on the subject, which we’ll proceed to lay on your plate, as you try to ignore the grand debate on healthcare and how ‘that Kenyan is ruining this country,’ while at the same time trying not to call attention to your text messaging.
Feel free to jump in with congratulatory asides and additional servings of praise for our foresight, which will only require a few tweaks, perhaps a dollop of the salsa du jour for flavor, and a few minutes in the microwave. Just like the leftovers you’re sentenced to have for the next several days.
For there’s little about this holiday that’s new and fresh, and this year particularly, the pickings are indeed slim. You have your White House sanctioned turkey pardons, the appalling conditions consumer-bound poultry is handled in this country and the need to raise them more humanely, and the multitude of well-intentioned souls who decide to go vegan at this time of the year out of sheer disgust.
But there’s something else going on, that may be important for astrophysics and scientists: a comet is about to zip by, head and tail, the sun. ISON, as it’s known, has been so far a disappointment all on its own, though. Earlier reports that it’d offer a stunning sky show have been greatly downgraded since.
Thus there’s little hope for you but to dive yourself among your family and friends, and hey, it doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, you should Continue reading

Secret, Agent, Mad

Poison Pills
& Furry Spies

No one ever said that being a spy was easy. But for humans, the profession holds a certain romantic allure, what with all the dashing undercover, crossing borders and, at least in pulp literature and pop culture, getting the girl in the end. Or getting killed, of course.
The deal’s considerably rougher for animals, and no one should be surprised about that either. But even if we’ve been forcibly enrolling them to do our bidding since time immemorial, nothing compares to what happened when the CIA came up with Project Acoustic Kitty.
It was one of the most cruel and wasteful ideas, in a long line of blunders and mistakes, that the Langley, Virginia, based agency, has been responsible for, hands (handcuffed) down. No wonder even its acronym has been utterly upstaged lately by the Camp Williams, Utah, based NSA, heavens help us all.
This is been a particularly uncomfortable time for shadowy organizations all over the world. The unwelcome glare of a constant flow of staggering revelations leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden about the NSA coming to light almost daily must be making secret powers that be very nervous indeed.
In fact, what we can only guess that goes on behind the scenes is far from the glamorous world portrayed in the 007 movies and even postwar accounts of heroism and tragedy for agent and double-agents alike, some driven by idealism, and others by the good old fashioned value of hard cash.
Not that the lives of spies have become any easier. The recent bombshell findings that the exhumed body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had ‘unnaturally high levels of polonium’ seem to prove that he was poisoned and didn’t die of a ‘cerebrovascular accident’ nine years ago next Monday.
In other words, he was probably killed by a spy, who knows working for whom. The case also revived in the public memory the 2006 death of Russian officer Alexander Litvinenko, in London, said to have been also poisoned by polonium, after meeting with two other agents from the Russian security agency.
Cases abound, but one has to keep in mind that nobody just simply wound up becoming a secret agent, and even making through the lower ranks of the ‘profession’ requires considerable – and here we’re sure Graham Greene would’ve put it in a much better way – will, skill, and ability to kill.

$20 MILLION TO KILL A CAT
Not with our sentient companions on this Earth, unfortunately not ever given the freedom to make that choice. They’re simply recruited and, regardless whether they fulfill their assignments or get killed right at the starting gate, there’s no possible way we can make sure they’ll benefit from the experience.
Take the unnamed, and unfortunate, female kitty of the CIA experiment. As Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton wrote in Spycraft, their account of the CIA’s diatribes to outwit the Soviet Union during the Cold War, she was the first and, thankfully, the last of a spectacularly misguided project, and unwittingly paid dearly for it.
The project that was to be deemed ‘a complete failure’ a few years Continue reading

Freaky Links

When Mooncakes & Underwear
Gauge Your Hopes About the Future

The heart wants what it wants, and the brain makes up for what we can’t see. Since the first cave man dropped his rock and read his pretty girl’s rosy future on a bunch of leaves and sticks, we’ve been desperate to learn what’s coming at least a few moments earlier.
Thousands of years of failed divination and silly games of chance, and we still believe that, out of the merciless natural chaos, we’ll be graced with order, to make sense of it all. Never mind romance, though. Today, our money’s on the cult of economic predictions.
Thus the supposed relationship between the recession and unclaimed corpses, a rise in murders and leaded gasoline, the comfortingly unreliable link of serial killers and the shared economy, and that old, and slightly dirty, classic, the Underwear Index.
Certainly, the fervor about the future is never lost in tabloid horoscopes, the street corner palm reader, the interplanetary dance, or the long-distance psychic. There’s really no logical explanation for the rush to see trends in new babies’ names, or the anxiety about the Groundhog that supposedly calls out the remaining winter days left, climate change notwithstanding.
But nowhere the fever is more profitable (or ruin-driving), and the numbers are revered with such respect than the stock market, which if it hasn’t replaced high-rolling gambling, is still an activity rewarded by how professional is your con of selling investors into your brand of golden pills.
We should know better, of course. But no matter how much we know, we keep coming back for more, watching mesmerized the same static pictures, while believing that the lines are moving, or the face with three eyes, as if it has only two, because after all, it just can’t possibly be.
In fact, it’s frighteningly easy to fool the headquarters of our making sense of the world, the brain, and how naive it tries to compensate for Continue reading

The Body of Choice

When Women Empowerment
Was Written Into the U.S. Law

Forty years ago today, abortion became legal in the U.S. through the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. It was the culmination of years of struggle to strip the issue of religious undertones and move it to the realm of women’s health.
Although abortion may serve as springboard for deranged arguments against a woman’s right to preside over her own body, most Americans wouldn’t support turning back the clock on the law of the land.
That’s because there are two undeniable facts about abortion: one is that it’s still one of the hardest decisions any person would have to make. Secondly, its legality has saved thousands of lives, and is potentially a deterrent factor in preventing pregnancy.
At the end of the day, when all the hypocritical and moralist rhetoric about ‘right to life’ and other fabrications have died out, what’s left is only the health and social implications the decision to end an undesirable and unprepared pregnancy ensues. And that affects everyone.
It’s enough that in many parts of the world, what’s erroneously considered a ‘woman’s mistake’ will cost her health, social standing, and often her own life. She will meet the utmost punishment, regardless if she was raped by one of her community’s patriarchs or by a gang of drunken youth: if she survives, she’ll still be an outcast.
In the U.S., despite a spat of state-level rulings, in some instances, even seeking criminal prosecution, we’re not about to return to such tribalistic reality. Although such rulings aim, ultimately, at preventing women from exercising their self determination, we’ve already too far Continue reading

Lady Parts

The Botched & the Rumored,
the Unwritten & the Plain Bizarre 

It must be that red star that’s devouring a planet. Or the shortest northern summer on record. In just a few weeks, we’ve heard of an amateur who disfigured a century-old painting, a pen found in a woman’s gut, fears that bears like menstrual blood, and nails growing in someone’s head.
We don’t know about you, but it can’t be good when the most uplifting story in the news cycle is the one about a pen that still works after 25 years inside somebody. And that without even discussing the most abysmally ignorant and staggeringly cruel quote of the week, though.
That ‘honor,’ of course, belongs to Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s medieval ideas about women’s anatomy and right to equality. The only benefit that came from that pseudo-controversy was to bring back the issue of reproductive rights as a way to gauge a politician’s real stand. Now, can we go back to tax havens and the destruction of the middle class?
To say that there’s a wave of obscurantism and irrationality threatening to cloud the brightest minds of our time, is not just inaccurate; it’s also to lend too much credence where there’s none. As a society, we already had this debate some three hundred years ago, and it’s settled: speak only if you know everything that’s been ever said about it before. Period.
If there’s one thing that the Enlightenment still speaks volumes about human nature and its innate aim at constantly improve itself, despite even nature, is that it doesn’t really need any magical thinking to do it so. No supernatural beings, no set of beliefs, no ‘spiritual hierarchy’ needed to be followed.
If you don’t know, experiment with it, as many hundreds, thousands of times that it’s needed, until you can retrace your steps and reproduce the same result. Nevertheless, or exactly because of this vast randomness we live in, each time we get it right, there’s no way back.
And the same holds true when what happens lies even beyond our unruly imagination. The proverbial, you can’t make this stuff up. That’s enough to keep us guessing, wondering in awe, no ghosts or apparitions necessary. Which doesn’t mean that one may not see or Continue reading

Popping the Question

Proposed Soda Ban as Healthy   
Measure or Ruling on Life Style

Does soda make you fat? This line of inquiry has become a battlefield far beyond that one fought over in bedrooms of America, between significant others out for a brawl or fishing for a compliment. As it turns out, even sweet drinks are political artifacts and, as with everything else, personal choices often take a whole village by storm.
Ideally, if you don’t believe the hype, you wouldn’t be drinking sugary drinks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But there’s no such luck in this world. Now, saying that yes, soda does make you fat, places you in the unsavory company of a diminutive billionaire mayor, who may have a point. And saying no, in this case, means saying yes, It’s confusing.
But it shouldn’t be. There’s nothing wrong with politicizing an issue that after all involves a multibillion-dollar global industry and a public health crisis, in the context that it is, indeed, your right to ingest whatever you want, for as long as you’re don’t impose it on anyone, or set a poor example to your kids. Who’re not about to agree with you anyway, but at times, do follow you.
While banning something by law doesn’t have a great track of accomplishing the intended results (for that, see Drugs, War on), there’s merit in trying to monitor and regulate what’s been sold to children. Curiously, while many feel uncomfortable with some of their bedfellows in the anti-soda trenches, those who easily invoke ‘freedom’ to oppose any ban seem to be fine with their own brothers in arms.
If these past few weeks can serve to any purpose, they’ve shown that the tactics used by those being paid for by the industry to picket movie theaters and malls, with questionnaires about ‘choice’ and ‘what would you do if?’ are quite familiar. They eerily resemble the same tactics that activists for anti-gun control laws, climate-change deniers and even anti-abortion zealots routinely use.
They’re always there to get your vote for their cause, but are hardly visible in the aftermath of another mass shooting, or at the scene of freaky tornado’s destruction wake, or even worst, when kids of teenager mothers and broken homes desperately need help, and money, for staying in school or out of trouble.
THE CASE OF MIKE B.
Through three terms, the mayor of New York City has been a vocal, if not always tactical, advocate for several causes dear to his heart. That’s the good way of seeing his actions. Unfortunately, unlike Continue reading

(Not) Nice to Meat You

Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil

The short-comings of public campaigns about people’s bad health habits are well known. The best example, of course, are the billions of dollars spent trying to warn people about the devastation that cigarette smoking may cause.
The graphic depictions of terminal diseases caused by the nasty habit, tough rhetoric and even government-sponsored draconian laws restricting its practice, as it happened in New York, have all but failed to make a real dent in the profits of the tobacco industry, let alone the smokers’ pleasure.
At the end of the day, scary tactics notwithstanding, to quit smoking remains a deeply personal decision, akin of choosing a particular diet regime, or becoming a vegetarian.
Which brings us to the age-old discussion over whether we should or are we even supposed to have the flesh of dead animals as so central a staple of our food consumption.
Since last century, growing criticism of the meat industry has reached strident levels. Beyond the usual health-minded Continue reading