Life Inside

Odd Animals & the House
Cats Who Caught a Virus

Now for something completely different. An unknown number of unknown species go extinct every year but there are still plenty to go gaga about the natural world. A 150ft stringlike creature, likely the longest in the ocean? Check. A bug that smells like spring? Check. A ‘nano’ animal that can survive outer space? Check, again.
But I know what you’re thinking: not, ‘what’s with the siphonophore, the springtail, or the tardigrade. No siree, what you wanna know is what the hell is up with those cats? Indeed, many more odd-looking beings sit out there, either to be found or missed, but we’d go to war to keep our Internet Cats Home Improvement Goals.
‘I-ching,’ for short. You know, the science that studies how cats keep us all under their spell, refuse to do a single thing you ask and are known for always landing on their feet. Who would never be on those homecoming videos where humans play god and are welcomed by their slobberingly loving pets. You may’ve won the war but to your cat, it’s, so what?
Or in Cat World we’re all dogs: we sit mesmerized for hours, startled at times, very afraid in others, but ultimately ready to serve and do whatever may appease them. It rarely does. But even as cats seem brutally aware of our flaws and pointless lives, some humans do live to worship them. Just don’t call them ‘chingers.’
Which brings us to those stringlike, buggy, and piggish-looking creatures. There’s no cult dedicated to them nor they set the standard for coolness. But their very existence shows why humans love felines. Who are not above having dopes like Joe Exotic jumping on their bandwagon but let’s not get into all that crap just yet.

LONGER THAN A BLUE WHALE
The siphonophore lives in deep waters and its relatives have been snaking their way beneath waves for over half a billion years. The specimen captured on camera off Western Australia was a whopping 45m long, which yes, it’s longer (but not as relatable as) the majestic Big Blue. As it turns out, though, neither it needs to be.
For starters, it’s not one but a colony of predators among 175 species. It’s also luminescent and related to one of the oceans’ fiercest, the Portuguese man-of-war. It may look the part but similarities stop there. After all, it’s hard to beat the glamour of a carnivore with a notorious sting and a tentacle stretched back into the Discovery Age.

More U.F.O.-like than medusa, you may bet your goggles nevertheless that the Apulemia uvaria caught on video has its own charms. We just don’t know how do they work, and whether some of its (more)
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* Mutants & Chimaeras
* Tough Crowd
* Suddenly Last Caturday

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Floating Enigmas


That Time a Ghost Ship, Adrift at
Sea, Carried a Crew of Cannibal Rats

Most eerie accounts of ships lost or found abandoned, without a shadow of life aboard, fuel nightmares and horror tales. Take the Mary Celeste, for instance, whose missing crew left all possessions and jumped out of her in a hurry, on a clear night in 1872.
The Lyubov Orlova cruiser, though, belongs to another category of fright: the life left behind is not human but feral. Rodents with sharp teeth run around breeding and eating each other. As they carry on their blood bath, the ship drifts towards the North Atlantic.
The Russian-made vessel is only the latest to be cast adrift, but unlike memorable cases in the past, the fate of her last crew is well known: unpaid by the owners, they all left her at a Canadian harbor, where she remained until she broke lose during a storm.
Penniless and prosaic, or lucky as some would put it, the fate of the Lyubov Orlova crew diverges from accounts of many a ghost ship, found empty, or lost forever and possibly sunk. At least they lived to hopefully find new employment, or another line of business.
Those who manned other legendary ships, however, were never to be seen again. Besides the Mary Celeste, there’s the Caroll A. Derring, with its 1921 swashbuckling tale of pirates and the Bermuda Triangle, and the Zebrina, found empty in 1917, with likely hints that the war had come on board.
But just before we lose perspective, the worst possible nightmarish scenarios notwithstanding, nothing at sea can be more terrifying than a shipwreck, both for its potential for unredeeming loss and ability to strike fear into the hearts of sailing souls. Neither has any ship disappeared with a large crew so far. Knock on wood.
And no nautical tragedy encapsulates a higher confluence of fears associated with high seas than the wreck of the Essex in 1820, with its horrific tale of a giant whale hitting it twice, and survivors resorting to cannibalism. The episode inspired at least one masterpiece, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, published 30 years later.

THE BLOOD OF EARTH
Giving its primordial existence, though, the vastness of the bodies of water that interconnect and divide our receding lands do instil an inordinate amount of irrational fears and spikes in our fright bones, in diametrically ways that terra firma represents hope and redemption when it’s finally within reach.
Thalassophobia is, in fact, one of the arguably most primeval fears for humans, more intense than even the fear of heights. For our inadequate bodies, not made to soar above the clouds or breathe underwater, can still better avoid the former, whereas to drown, one Continue reading

The Bug Report

A New Unicorn Praying Mantis
& the Rediscovered Queen Bee

Without fuss, our relationship with insects has been wildly changing lately. First, we considered eating them in case of an apocalyptic scenario. Then came the worldwide alert: bugs are disappearing – led by a bee catastrophic fallout. Whatever happened to our lunch?
Then again, the same science that predicts climate change may cause the extinction of critters and humans alike, keeps finding new species to amaze us all. The latest: a stunning praying mantis, and the reappearance of the giant Wallace bee, not seen since 1981.
Bugs’ otherworldly beauty and, based on what we now know, crucial role in the food chain, reassigns our appreciation of these creatures. So utterly distinct from us, and yet, so essential to life. The poignant note about it all is that we may not get to discover them in time.
It was surprising, for instance, to find out that spiders eat in a year the weight of the entire mankind. Or that beetles, with over 380,000 species, are the most biodiverse, making up to 40% of all insects on Earth. Some would say, no wonder The Beatles are still so dominant.
But even before the troubling notion that we’d need to start eating them – ‘for the protein, they said’ -, they began to vanish. It’s still unclear how they’re being affected by the changing climate, but one thing is for sure: if they go, we all go right after.

A UNICORN IN A BRAZILIAN FOREST
Brazil’s Mata Atlântica, near Rio, is one of the world’s most diverse forests. Older than the Amazon, only 10% is now left from its original size. In this doomed place, however, life thrives, and it’s where a magical creature was discovered, among half a dozen new species.
Science has no place for praying, except for the praying mantis (pardon the poor pun). Their alien appearance is not very popular, though, even when looking like a dead leaf, or an orchid. And then, there’s that business of having their heads eaten while copulating.
Maybe that’s how evolution treated such a mortal threat: by developing horns. The hand-sized Zoolea praying mantis has one, along a pair of imposing metallic-red limbs. Thus, next time you see one, before running, check for the unicorn. And make a wish or something.

THE BEE MISSING FOR 38 YEARS
Over a decade ago, what became known as Colony Collapse Disorder was so serious that scientists feared for our food crops, without bees to pollinate them. Luckily, it wasn’t to be, not because of that, anyway. But bee populations are still declining, and now, other insects too.
That’s why the rediscovery of the Wallace‘s giant bee (Megachile Pluto) in Indonesia is so auspicious. Four times as big as a honeybee, it does not produce honey or live in hives. Also, confirming a trend (more)
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* Racy Meals
* Heat Riders
* Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees

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The Turkey Brief

Five Easy Sides
for Thanksgiving

How come America’s most beloved holiday became such a minefield of discord and intra-family carnage? No idea. But there’re still ways to prevent that carved bird from becoming airborne, thrown across the dinner table by a disaffected relative.
Thanksgiving did become synonym to a hard time to be had by all. It now even includes its own set of preppy tips, so to avoid confrontations and visits to the E.R. They vary but have one topic in common: do not talk about politics. Or religion. Or sex. Or Turkey.
Or something else, for often it’s the way the conversation is conducted, never mind its content, what may lead to the breakup of many a relationship. Of course, foul language and inappropriate use of utensils can also be accountable for spilled blood.
Whether on the account of a heated exchange over a swampy-orange stink bomb set off in DC two years ago, particularly pungent today, or for smearing our culinary and/or dietary whims on everybody’s faces, things have a way to heat up like ovens on Thursdays like these.
Tales of communal pilgrims are no longer the adult option; we’ve already ruined this holiday. But fact is, Thanksgiving‘s the utmost family holiday in the U.S., screams and sugar rushes et al. Taken as such, it’s not that we’re navigating unfamiliar territory here. Have a Roving One.

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* No, Thanks
* A Nation of Thanks
* Cold Turkey

Racy Meals

Our Next Course May Be
Bugs & Invasive Species

Not to spoil your appetite but with almost 800 million starving in the world — despite producing more food than ever  — and climate change squishing us away from the water, you may not care much for what’s for dinner.
Indeed, the main source of nourishment of tomorrow’s meal may be something you’re used to squash: insects. And if you’re not up to the crunch, and by flies, got the means to turn down all that protein, do everyone a big favor and go after some invasive species.
Any way you slice it, our meat and grain industry won’t cut it. Since stomachs are made to be filled, let’s hope that, rather than dirt and junk food, we develop a knack for recycling and regurgitating what we’re so used to toss. Bless our prophets, the Dumpster Divers.
To be sure, many already survive on a diet rich in crawling critters and hairy creepers, and one can tell by the way we say it, how deluded we still allow ourselves to be. But the time will come when we’ll learn or starve, and for the majority, it may be as simple as that.
It’s one thing, though, to eat what dwindling forests still have plenty to offer. It may take guts to pick one up and swallow it whole, but with time, anyone can be a forager. It’s an entirely different affair, though, for those living in the cities, just like most of us.
Again, we hope your stomach is strong, but that disgusting creature that just moved its antennae and scurried up behind your sofa may be on tomorrow’s menu. Along with the fat subway rodents and the unsanitary geese that no longer migrate away from that fetid city pond.
That’s when grown men will cry like inmates, to no one’s sympathy, and children will dispute with feral pets the scraps of civilization. Just like the increasing millions of landfill dwellers, we may need to engage into a higher survival gear, so the pickings won’t be slim.

CRUNCHY DELIGHTS
The first two, arguably most important things anyone needs to know about eating bugs is, one, that it’s good for the planet. And two, that you may be already eating them, without knowing it. That’s not the case, of course, of indigenous peoples in pretty much all continents, who’ve been eating them from time immemorial.
Ants, locusts, beetles, worms, crickets, water… boatmen (we’re not quite there yet), flies and stinkbugs, are central to the protein (more)

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* Not Food
* The Food Report
* Sleeping With the Fishes

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Close Encounters

A Brush With Three
Magnificent Whales

A visual dialogue between a Big Blue and a man longing to understand it. A dead Pygmy ashore, and a two-million year old puzzle. And an eye-to-eye with a giant Right whale. As the alarms sound all across the land, deep underwater these mysterious creatures remain elusive.
While only a minority among us has managed to touch them, soon enough not even that will be possible. The Requiem is about the biggest animal on Earth on a fast track to disappearance. The dead one was not supposed to be around. And a Right one comes up close and personal.
As awareness grows about the impossibility of keeping in captivity wild animals em general, and marine mammals in particular, we face a quandary: how to reintroduce them back into their natural habitat, when it’s already depleted and has been steadily shrinking?
As we learn more about these stupendous creatures, we realize how inadequate zoos and seawater resorts are to provide for the wild life under their care. Dwindling funds and business constraints have often turned these facilities into the main factor conspiring against the animals’ own survival.
The case of cetaceans, specially, is particularly tragic. Despite their huge brains, and their presence on Earth for millions of years, we remain ignorant about basic facts concerning their evolutionary traits, social organization, and, let’s face it, how many of them are out there?
It’s been known for a while that some species are already in rapid decline, possibly due to our increasing occupation of their habitats. That’s what makes the occasional discovery of a new species, or a specimen of a kind thought to be extinct long time ago, so baffling.

A FLYING BLUE WHALE
The Dutch actor Rutger Hauer and film director Sil van der Woerd have created a stunning tale, Requiem 2019, that imagine the colossal mammoth floating about, its skin playing back bloody scenes of whalers on the hunt, while it closely observes a semi-paralyzed, and embarrassingly little, man on the ground.

The species, said to be reduced now to less than 10,000 individuals, from a couple of hundred thousand in the 1900s, has dwarfed every creature that has ever lived on this planet, including dinosaurs and other little-known species, felled by adverse evolutionary conditions.
They beat them all, but unfortunately met mankind. In the relative (more)

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* Thinking With Tentacles
* The Whale Report
* The Saddest Song

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Great White Cafe

Waiting Anxiously for a Ping
From Our Local Shark Mary Lee

Excuse me for a second, but let’s give a shout out to a creature no one has seen or heard from since last year: Mary Lee, where are you? People are concerned, you know? They wonder if the battery of your tracking device has expired. Or it was just you who’s stopped running.
We’d totally understand, of course, but it’d make us terribly sad. You see, Shark Week came and went, your kind has been seen up and down the coast. Even a couple of crooks tried to steal a horn shark on a baby stroller in San Antonio, for crying out loud. But from you, not a beep.
Mary Lee, you see, is a 16-foot, 3,456-pound great white shark who’s been visiting this corner of the Atlantic for the past several years. Since she’s been tagged by Ocearch, tracking her swimmings have become the stuff of dream vacations to many. Florida, Bermuda, well, yes, the Jersey Shore.
Then, sometime before June of 2017, puff, silence, worry, and now, apprehension: is she still alive? Thus, plain calling out her name may just do the trick for bringing her back to our lives. All else has failed so far. Either way, she won’t be forgotten.
Our local shark must have won many battles, and the hazards of celebrity are certainly not of her concern. Still, the allure of the big fish never seems to phase out. Just the other night, Jaws was playing on a small bar. And the place would still get very quiet at times.

THE RUMBLE OF 300 TEETH
People feign fear of great whites (in the safety of land), but are actually obsessed by them. Surely way more than the small number of annual attacks would justify it. In fact, sharks face extinction, (more)
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* Beneath the Waves
* The Whale Report
* Flipper Backlash

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Earth Day


With the Planet This Hot,
What’s There to Celebrate?

Farewell Dive

Cassini Bids Bye Bye With Last
Jump Into the Rings of Saturn

The spacecraft that’s been orbiting Saturn for the past 13 years, is executing its final dive today. It’ll be a grand finale, fireworks and all, as it’ll crash while taking the last of thousands of pictures and videos it already took from the ringed giant.
It was a risky triumph for NASA, for the $3.4 billion, plutonium-powered probe swung up close by us, in 1999, to use Earth’s gravity to shoot up towards Saturn. A mishap could’ve been disastrous, but it was worth: we’ve learned so much with the little probe that will die today.
These expensive and far-reaching missions always prompt questions as to their validity. It’s no different with Cassini. Many doubted its science, and to some politicians its cost-to-dividend ratio could never be compared to, say, another monstrous taxpayer-funded sports arena.
Since it’s hard to quantify the exact impact Cassini‘s will have on our knowledge – apart from, well, so much more than we knew before -, projects like these may be on their way out. While it traveled to Saturn, nanotechnology, for instance, experienced a quantum leap.
Advances in computer science and robotics, as well as the entry of private enthusiasts in the field of space exploration, may assign a different role to organizations such as NASA, and the European and Italian space agencies, that collaborated to make the Cassini project an astounding success.

A TRANSCENDENTAL STEP IN SPACE
For, however be that as it may, the orbiter, and its hitch-hiker, the Huygens lander, dropped on Titan in 2005, represent a staggering milestone. Its secrets will still challenge us long after everyone alive now is gone. That, by the way, is the only form of immortality that makes sense.
It’s the part when space as a metaphor to the human adventure on this planet resounds the most transcendental. That’s how Italian Giovanni Domenico Cassini, and Dutch Christiaan Huygens, both mathematicians, remain alive and even more relevant today than during their XII century existences.
The Cassini journey has also an added benefit: allowing mankind to witness a complete cycle, which started (more)
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* War Lord
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Moon Shadow

Here Comes the Darken Sun,
But Let’s Just Say, It’s Alright

So the great solar eclipse of 2017 is coming to America and we, for ones, are only too glad about it. What, with all that’s going on, the thought of spending time with such a fascinating cosmic event surely beats most of everything one’s been watching on the news lately.
By now, however, every media, the Internet, your close friends, and even your deranged uncle Bob, have already told you all that is to know about it, maybe more. So here’s just a few historical and/or interesting pics to entice and inform you. Call it your personal mini visual tour.
Hover over the photos and click on them and on the links, for data and stories. Eclipses have been teaching us since time immemorial, and while many feared that the sun, or the moon, wouldn’t survive the penumbra, others like Edmond Halley, were open to learn. The one in 1919, for instance, proved Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

The one visible in 1966 at the bottom of South America led NASA to launch 12 rockets from a beach some 30 miles from where a little boy risked losing his eyesight to watch it through a photo negative strip. Luckily, that pair of eyes survived to experience many others since.

All ancient civilizations studied and documented cosmic phenomena. Comets and meteors, supernovas and moon eclipses, all had tremendous impact on our history on this planet. But things heat up considerably whenever the sun is concerned, and when the day turns into night, well, that’s not to be ever taken lightly.

We gaze, therefore we are. To many of us, this may be our very last solar eclipse, so we’d better make it good, just in case. Choose well your eye wear, pick a good spot, and make up a decent excuse to be there. Gee, the way things are going, the sun coming back after just a few hours may be the best news we may be getting for a while.

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* Tomorrow Never Knows

The Deep End

* Large and small Websites are participating on July 12 in a Day of Action to preserve Net Neutrality, a free, open, and accessible Internet to anyone. The Federal Communications Commission is threatening to turn it into a system where cable and communications companies are gate keepers, that dictate prices and speeds to everyone else.
* That would be the end to Colltales and millions of sites, including those that serve as lifelines to billions, who depend on them for self-expression, to speak the truth to power, and to communicate with the world. Make your voice heard and fight for the democratic right of access of everyone to the World Wide Web.


Diving With Spiders 
In the World Wild Web

The wonder about the Internet is that it’s still expanding at an incalculable rate, and it remains defiantly free and democratic, despite all attempts at controlling it. So there’s no embarrassment to admit we’re far from grasping even a fraction of its multi billion-plus sites.
But as vast as the Web may be, it is but a shallow dip into its depths. To dive unprepared into the bowels of what’s known as Deep Web, is not advisable. Unreachable by search engine spiders, it’s like falling into an abyss, and like the ocean, it can crush you.
It’s not enough to Google ‘dark net’ in order to get to it, but it does bring up a staggering number of links. And that’s a start for a glance of the Deep Web which is some four to five hundred times larger than what’s available to everyone: about 6,500 terabytes compared to the meek 20 terabytes you can all access to. As for what’s in really in there, it’s another matter.
Close to 500 billion of that numbing figure are of sites you’ll probably never be admitted to, and as you’ll find out, nor should you try to. That is, unless you’re absolutely sure about what you’re getting yourself into. Consider that a fair warning.
Of course, not all that info is really relevant to the lives of the majority of people. But if you really need to be granted access, and there are ways to get it, what you’ll find is way more reliable data that you’re used to be fed by a regular search. A lot of it sits inside directories, under specific topic-driven searches, though.
WHERE THE WEB IS STICKIER
Despite the benign imagery used to invoke the differences between the regular Interweb and the Deep Web – fishing through the surface of the ocean as opposed to deep sea fishing – there’s not much that’s benign about this bottomless well of info, and many may find themselves, well, out of their depth while searching it.
That’s because traditional search engines have standard (more)
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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)
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* Last Drops
* Faux Jellyfish
* Beneath the Waves

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Wild in the City

New Backyard Attractions:
El Jefe & the Lion King of L.A.

Behind the string of wild animal sightings roaming major urban centers is our destructive appetite for the land and resources of their natural habitats. Thus when a mountain lion takes residency in a public park, or a jaguar is caught on tape close to a highway, it’s urgent to study them before they disappear.
Seeing bears, coyotes, alligators, tigers, and many others is becoming common in American and world cities. But there’s something new about P-22, a puma who lives in L.A., and El Jefe, of Tucson and possibly the only jaguar living in the U.S.: the much we’ve already learned about their incredibly rich individual sagas.

No offense to the remarkable little tiger that roams your living room, but these magnificent cats’ ability to adapt and survive offers invaluable insights into our efforts to slow down the extinction their species and of so many others face. Even if, as it goes, their close proximity also shames us to no end.
The ongoing massive man-made extermination of wildlife, which took evolution millions of years to perfect, is not just a tragedy on a planetary scale; it may also turn out to be the gateway to our own quick demise. Good riddance, some of them would say if they could or were born for that sort of thing.
For too long, developed nations have blamed poor (our apologies, Africa) continents for being lax about natural resources and their native animals. But what the fate of P-22 and El Jefe brings home is the hypocrisy of such an attitude, as it exposes our own lack of commitment for protecting the planet.

CEO OF THE UNDOCUMENTED
The footage of El Jefe, whose name was chosen by students at a Tucson school, was is a highlight in a decades-long program to restore a clear path for jaguars between North and South America. So there was due credit given when a remote camera captured glances of the elusive cat for the first time.
But it also happens during a particular hard time for U.S. immigrants. As a misguided administration engages in mass deportations, it also plans to build a wall at the border with Mexico, which would be disastrous to that recover strategy. That is sad but fitting, though, as El Jefe is believed to be a Mexican by birth too.
How it’ll play out may determine whether current efforts to prevent the extinction of species is headed to success or failure. That’s because any effective preservation strategy has to allocate, and protect, large swaths of land, where they can thrive without human direct interference. And that’s tough.
By the way, tough is also the jaguar bite: 2000 pounds per square inch, which relative to its weight is the stronger than all other cats, and also bears, gorilas and hippos. It can crush a turtle shell and it’s no wonder the Amerindian word Yaguar means ‘he who kills with one leap.’

THE BOSS OF HOLLYWOOD
The case of P-22 is similar in what the cat’s endurance is also the result of a carefully laid out plan to drive up the numbers of a genetically diverse population in the U.S. That’s another component of a successful recovery strategy, as it increases their odds to survival.
Centuries of hunting, inbreeding, and the perils of navigating diminishing wilderness patches squeezed by miles and miles (more)
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* Farewell to a King
* Pachyderm Skills
* Sleep With the Fishes

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The 29

The Day I’ve Landed & the One
Question I’ve Been Always Asked

People like round numbers and big ‘Os’ are all the rage. Birthdays and anniversaries seem much louder if the date ends with a zero. But not me, I like fractured numbers. Evens are fine, but the odd ones hold a special slot on my book. Like 29, for instance.
It’s been that many years since I’ve arrived in Manhattan, in what was supposed to be a short season at the center of the world, and turned into the skin of a lifetime. 29 was also my roll call in grade school, before a classmate whose initial was ‘Y’. 
Just don’t ask about primes. For this special relationship with digits may be also why two major areas of the human experience have always been hostile to me: Math and lotto. Neither did me any favors, despite the fact that it’d love to be their pets. Numbers are cold that way.
While that’ll likely to remain the same, the New York where I’ve landed has changed many times over, though. And so have I, who lived, died, and reincarnated into so many different lives, none of which I’ve ever thought I’d pick, inherit, own. There may be some stats for those odds.
Here I’ve fell out of love, and fell right back in again; had a few changes of heart, and had it broken many times too, twice over losing my cats, all the while switching my tongue and aging into a cranky old man.
Departed parents, and a brother, and a few friends, could not inform the transformation taking place outside my sore eyes. But all it takes is a glance of that shrinking face staring back at me to see I was not spared: soon enough, my number too will be up.
I got to say, all these pretty pics of Rio and its games, being shown nightly, have made me jealous. A life can be crammed into a few strokes; any body can be stuffed into a piece of luggage. It’s what seeps through and stains the pavement that attracts notice.
I’ve always thought that my footprints were going to lead me all the way back to the Marvelous City. But now it’s another place oblivious to my run. In the end, 29 may number the things I did good while calculating the odds. I can’t think of a single one right now, though.
Why did I leave? I was asked over and over. When I was done dismissing it, I tried to settle the matter. At some point, I wrote a short essay about it. That’s what I’m sharing with you today. Hey, happy anniversary of my trip across the ocean. I have no regrets.

WHY LEAVE?

I left Brazil because I used to feel like a foreigner. Born in Rio but raised in the South, my accent sounds alien. A friend defined it for me, ‘you speak like someone who’s on the go.’ Years of living abroad have certainly not improved my situation. Most likely, I’m forgotten to all but a few, and to most, I never even existed. I left Brazil because we did not speak the same language.

I left Brazil, in part, because my name triggered jokes and personal grief. It’s not Brazilian enough, and people looked funny at me pronouncing it. Spelling mistakes plagued me whenever it there was a form to fill. Worse, some would size me up, suspicious that it was a ploy. As if Dad — an Episcopalian Reverend in a mostly Catholic country — had committed an act of sedition by calling us Norton, Norris, Wesley, and Joyce Mag. And I had to pay for his treason. I had to leave Brazil before someone accused me of unbrazilian activities.

I also left my country because, while most Brazilians are of mixed race, no one likes to admit it. Hot-iron treatment remains a staple of inner city beauty parlors. Living in the South didn’t help it either. Down there, the majority is of European heritage — have you heard of someone named Giselle something? For my blond, blue-eyed class, I was neither white nor black. ‘With a foot in Africa’, they would add, heavy on the innuendo. That I’ve been proud of my black blood was never the case. I had to leave Brazil after one too many, ‘Go back to Africa!’

I had to leave Brazil because Brazilian music is seldom heard on the radio. The country’s exquisite music tradition is today unfashionable. This may sound like whining. Whether contemporary music in Brazil is in a regressive mode or I am the one getting older and cranky, is irrelevant. As an experiment, round up a group of jazz players and question them about their favorite music. I assure you, four out of five will pick Brazilian. Do the same in Brazil and chances are, Justin and Eminem or Kanye will top the list. Not offense but I forced myself to leave Brazil so to enjoy and play Brazilian music.

Finally, I had to leave Brazil because I was unhappy. Simply put, I had a good job but had no money. I was close to family and friends but getting farther and farther from my dreams, which I sill have plenty, thanks for asking. Traveling and living abroad was in one of my first to-do lists, compiled while still in school. I had acquaintances telling me, ‘you lucky bastard, got a good job and a good woman; you’re set for life. Why leave?’ I’ve given myself the right to disagree. I left the job but kept the woman. Most come to America to find themselves. I had to leave Brazil to get lost.

Heat Riders

A Genetically-Altered Mosquito   
& the Arrival of Heat Wave Pests

As if a punishing drought in the middle west, and the threat of freak tornadoes in the east were not enough, now experts are warning us that such conditions may be ideal to a another wave of undesired guests arriving at our doorsteps: bugs. But unlike (most) of out of towners willing to camp in our cramped quarters, these visitors bite.
So since heat-seeker crawlers, such as ticks, bedbugs, and (dear lord) black widows, are expected to find shelter under our roofs, we may need protection. Some countries are already unleashing an army of genetically-modified mosquitoes, or coating whole villages with a special paint, and there’re home-made repellents too.
If none of these tactics seem appealing or even practical to a discriminating city dweller such as yourself, there’s always the old-fashioned swatter, and the screen window, and the round the clock vigilance. For those fortunate enough to not having to live in a hut, that should suffice, since our bug problem is mainly an annoyance.
But to large swaths of the planet, specially those facing a quickly changing weather pattern, it’s all a matter of survival. When serious diseases such as Dengue fever, or Malaria, or Chagas, and so many others, are real threats, almost everything is worth trying to stop them, even when some of the remedies create a whole new set of challenges.
As the climate continues to change in unexpected, and truly frightening, ways, insects have more than a leg up over us. They adapt faster and our homes offer them almost everything they’d ever want to remain alive and reproducing. That means that technology and human ingenuity – if not our changing appetites, if you catch the drift – will all be tested to the limit, to produce reliable ways to cope with their explosion.
In fact, if it serves to give you any perspective, among the huge variety of themes and issues Colltales has been covering, the subject of critters is one that has deserved almost the most posts. Everything seems to indicate that the trend will continue, so we’ll try to be brief about what’s out there about them, and how it may affect you.

INVASION OF THE BUGGY EYES
There are many sites online that correctly point to the importance of bugs to our own survival. Some have more of a sympathetic ring to them, such as bees, and others just get all the bad press, and for as many reasons as they usually have limbs. Most of such sites also praise nature for having created such an amazing system surrounding us.
You won’t find any of that here. Which doesn’t mean that we consider them our enemies. But for as much as we understand their right to live and thrive, when a cockroach shows up at our home, we admit it: we crush it. Sorry, but we could invoke many sanitary reasons as to why we do that almost by instinct. The real reason, though, is that we’re simply not that evolved.
The National Pest Management Association seems to agree with us. In a stern warning, they stated that ‘homeowners (or renters; bugs are not pickers) will likely encounter more pests than usual. Even areas of the country that are receiving rain aren’t in the clear, as standing rain water breeds mosquitoes, which can spread West Nile virus.’
Oh, yes, there are plenty of virus too, those microscopic versions of the same thing. But we’ll leave that for yet another post, for now. Their list of threats also includes scorpions, but we have our eye out (and hair standing in the back of our necks) for spiders, of course. The point is, though, how can you prevent that from happening?

GO AWAY HOME RECIPES
To many people, who’d rather live an uncomplicated life (bless them), going camping, or swimming, or picnicking mean only an extra stop at the local drugstore, for some bug spray. But despite makers of the oily solution have improved its smell, most of them are rich in something that we shouldn’t be slathering our bodies with: DEET.
The initials stand for an almost unpronounceable product developed by the U.S. Army for jungle warfare. Tested as a pesticide in the late 1940s, it’s used ever since, even though it’s proven to be toxic to birds and aquatic life. Even that you may use it sparsely (more)
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Read Also:
* Bug Time
* Airborne Bites
* It Bugs Them
* Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees
Continue reading

Scapegoats

When Albinos Are Fair Game,
Human Dignity Is Shot Down

There’s another bloody wave of killings of albinos going on in Africa, and once again, superstition and ignorance are behind it. It’s now happening in Malawi but it’s, in every way, equally as brutal as it’s been in Tanzania and other places.
Obviously, many are eager to toss their two cents into the well of possible reasons for the murders. But it all goes down to what Jean Paul Sartre’s play Final Exit proposes: hell is other people. Or, the pathological fear of ‘the other.’
Albinos, as Jews in Nazi German, the Roma in present Europe, or Mexicans and Muslims to a certain U.S. presidential candidate, often play the part of our inner boogeyman, full of the same treacherous intent and magical powers only our own deepest fear possess.
As such, they’re easy targets for unbound racism, prejudice, histeria, and even worst, the illusion that by destroying them we’ll somehow purge all that we consider ‘wrong’ inside ourselves. Make that into a ritual and call it tradition, for legitimacy.
Make it into a market and call it an abomination. According to a 2015 Red Cross report, an albino arm can be purchased for $4,000 in Africa, while the whole body can sell for about $75 thousand, which is usually raised by witch doctors among wealthy, but secretive, customers.
After last year’s staggeringly cruel acts committed against albinos in Tanzania, the United Nations chose June 13 as the International Albinism Awareness Day. It couldn’t come now at a better time, as 18 Malawians are believed to have been bludgeoned to death since 2014.
The brutality of the crimes make it hard to strike a proper balance when it comes to punish them. The Amnesty International, which released a report condemning the murders, has positioned itself against the death penalty for accused killers, as some in Malawi are proposing.
Three years ago, we published the post below which resonated with people in different continents, albino and not so. It seems that we’ll be posting it for a least a few times more. Albinos, who didn’t choose to become a magnet to fascists, may as well serve as symbols to the human dignity we all have the right to pursue and not be killed for it.

THE HUNTED

The Haunted Beauty of Albinos
& the Bigots Who Can’t Bear it

After months of relative peace, the brutal chase was on again back in 2013, when a seven-year old Tanzania boy had his hand chopped off by thugs disguised as spiritual healers. That false beliefs and carnage never cease to fester in such impoverished land is no surprise.
As it’s nothing new that a supernatural being is ‘ordering’ the murder and dismemberment of innocent humans, exacted by the hands of their ignorant priests. But it’s still staggering that what’s essentially an ancient medical condition would incite such unconscionable acts for so long.
We could spend the day here discussing that and many other cases, with their particularly gruesome patterns and all the gory details. Instead, we choose to celebrate what’s considered the ‘otherness’ of albinos who, after all, have to put up with all the limitations of their own condition.

The work and lives of South African models Thando Hopa, and Refilwe Modiselle, Tanzania Albino Society’s Ernest Kimaya, Afro-Brazilian Rosemere de Andrade, the India’s Pullan family, documentarian Harry Freeland, Brazilian photographer Gustavo Lacerda, plus a cadre of highly successful artists and thousands others, only assert the power of their dignity as human beings.
We offer today’s post as a solidarity gesture to albinos everywhere and their plight, not a repulsive patronizing pat on their scared backs, because it’s clear that neither such condition is an impediment to greatness, nor that to stand with Albinos requires preaching and outraged diatribes.
We hope the boy, Mwigulu Magessa, recovers, of course, he being only the latest in what appears to be an increasing series of savage attacks for their supposedly ‘magical‘ flesh. Let’s hope too that TAS gets the resources it needs to go after the culprits and those who cover up for them. In the real world, ignorance should never be a bliss.

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Read Also:
* Photo Retouch

Hairy Halloweeners

Zombies Are no Match to
People’s Phobia of Spiders

Halloween is upon us, and the walking dead continue to bury the traditional cast of goblins, ghosts, vampires and werewolves that used to dominate the season, in the hallowed ground of popular imagination. Only one creature packs a bigger fright punch than zombies: spiders.
They’ve been around for millions of years, more species are discovered every day, and unlike all other scary monsters, they’re very much real. And guess what? they’re growing bolder, scarier, and all research done lately has only increased our paralyzing fear of them.
For however beautiful creatures spiders may be, with their intense maternal feelings, their amazing stronger-than-steel silk-making abilities, and their endearing habit of liquefying their prey, they still can’t shake their reputation as overlords of both the crevices of the real world and of our most intimate nightmares.
Science has often come to the rescue of arachnophobes everywhere, who’re helpless to ward off their deep-seated fear of these crawlers. Discoveries in medicine and promising psychological therapies have been developed in order to find ways of soothing such fears, to not much avail, we must say.

For example, the lethal poison of the Brazilian Wandering spider, for which there’s no antidote, may one day replace Viagra-like therapies in the treatment of erectile dysfunction, according to a recent study. Great, right? But then, along comes the Trogloraptor Marchingtoni, or ‘cave robber,’ a recently discovered species with a horrendous set of claws, and we’re back into our fetal position.
CAN’T SHAKE THAT FEELING
Two separate studies about our fear of spiders and snakes, have concluded that, first, it may date back to early mammals, who had to (more)
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Read Also:
* Hallow Talk
* The Flours of Evil
* All Hallows’ Eve
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

Bad Valentiming

What If It’s Better to
Skip Valentine’s Day?

Ever tried adding a few sugar spoons to your ice cream? Or drilled a hole on a can of condensed milk and sucked it right in? Well, we did. And here’s another diabetes-inducing rush happening this year: A Less Er Bleeding Chocolate Heart from Pushin DaisiesValentine’s Day falls on a Saturday. Tomorrow. Now go and check your blood levels.
Don’t get us wrong: we’re all for love and affection and all that. But we must admit it: we were never sold on the idea of trading chocolate and flowers and underwear for sex, if you don’t mind our bluntness. But hey, whatever rocks, right? Or so goes the credo.
Across the land, couples – or triplets or whatever – will go through the ritual (sponsored mostly by Hallmark?) of following a recipe concocted by the marketing gods to induce higher levels of shopping, and maybe, a special moment or two in the sack.
Or perhaps that’s not the point at all. That sack part, we mean. Thing is, we can’t ‘unsee’ the buying spree from the romantic thought of dedicating one day a year to our beating, pulsating, engorged bleeding hearts. (Spoiler alert: lots of lovers break up on this day too.)
Full disclosure: we’re being blasé on purpose. Can’t avoid it. What, with this age of revenge porn, and social media shaming, and hacking galore, it’s a wonder that our twitter accounts have been violated only a few times. Or that privacy has nothing to do with it, wink, wink.
But we’re not brutes. After all, when archeologists uncovered in Leicester, England, a 14-century pair of skeletons, buried together, hand in hand, or at least, arms entangled, we did savor for a minute the sweet thought that it was their choice, to be committed to the ground together.
A few years ago, another couple was found in the same situation, but they lived in Roman times. 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

Bloody Girdles

Things You Didn’t Know About
Gladiators, Vikings & Crusaders

As soon as football season kicks off the U.S., we’re once again fed a nauseating diet of war metaphors to go along with the game. All this talk about warriors, soldiers, and battles, has an upside though: it gets us to raid our files on that trio of mythical combatants of ancient times.
Far from unique on their intimacy with pain and blood, or the glory and virtue often associated with them, they’re still tickle our pseudo-anthropological bone. And as it turns out, there are new surprising discoveries that may indeed change, just a bit, our idea of them.
It may come to no surprise, for instance, that gladiators lived an extremely hard life. But a recent trove of skulls and body parts, uncovered in England, put yet another brutal twist to the fate of these brave slaves. And unlike contemporary beheadings by religions freaks, theirs were arguably bloodier.
You’ve always knew that Vikings had been all over Europe, either waging war or not-so-gently settling in foreign lands. But new research has shown that not just the contingent of female warriors, but also, casual texting, were both more numerous and common than we previously thought. Who knew?
And speaking of war and pillage due to religion strife, no other enterprise had a bigger role leaving a legacy of hatred and broken bones in their wake than the Crusades. Now we know that at least the armies of Richard I, the Lionheart, left something else behind too: feces parasites in a castle in Cyprus.
Perhaps the need to periodically update our archives helps us keep in perspective what essentially hasn’t changed in the past two thousand years: humans will be always busy training to crush each other, either to conquer personal freedom, to expand their cultural heritage, or to simply annihilate the followers of a different god.
Then as now, soldiers are sold a bill of lies, wrapped in promises of immortality and ribbons of reward. They will go for the gold and glory and return inside bags of bones, lives and names already lost before the cannons’ first strike. Centuries later, it may be up to us to dig them up out of the dust and study their predicament.

FIGHTERS WITHOUT AN ARMY
Gladiators, for as well trained and combat-ready they seemed in the second century C.E., were closer to today’s WWF than to Marines. Being slaves would prevent them from ever be armed and part of the regular Roman legionary forces, even though they did once rise up against their overlords, led by the legendary Spartacus.
Zliten Mosaic, Libya, 2nd Century C.E.But for all purposes, they were there to entertain the crowds and, eventually, gain if not freedom, at least steady employment. Two recent discoveries, in Vienna and London, add a bit more color to what’s known about these stage fighters: a gladiators school, the first found outside Rome, and partial skeletons from some 40 men.
The building in Austria clearly shows that gladiators were prisoners, living ‘in cells, in a fortress with only one gate out,’ according to archeologist Ludwig Boltzman. Continue reading

Facedown

Twins, Dead Ringers & Lookalikes:
the Doppelganger & the Other ‘Yous’

You may have one of those faces. The other day, someone just saw your doppelganger walking down the street. You see people who resemble you all the time. But are we really all lookalikes, made of a relatively few number of templates, plus variables added as toppings?
The thought of not being physiognomically unique is quite unnerving, and as common as a pair of identical twins. We fancy that we’re one of a kind ever since we first recognized ourselves in the mirror. Mom told us herself. But then we meet our dead ringer and all bets are off.
One of the most fascinating phenomenon of living species is the double birth, the twins, and in humans, identical ones have been source of inspiration and awe since prehistorical times, central to a number of cultural traditions, the embodiment of kinship and parallel lives.
They’ve also been the target of scientific curiosity, knowledge, and sick experiments. Identical twins, specially, are rare but statistically expected. In Brazil, however, there’s a whole town, Cândido Godói, full of doubles, in way higher-than-normal rates. Researchers have come up with a variety of possible causes for it.
One that immediately got an enduring currency is that Nazi ‘Angel of Death,’ Joseph Mengele, had something to do with it, since he lived and died in the 1970s in a nearby farm community, across the border with Paraguay. But that theory has been debunked and replaced by another, more in line with scientific data.


WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
Twins do share a special bond, and seem linked in extraordinary ways to each other. Genes, naturally, explain their similitude and that among relatives, but it’s no less astonishing when that happens across generations, with grandkids being uncanny copies of their forebearers. Doppelgangers, and lookalikes, however, are another story.
All genetic research considered, it’s taken the work of a few photographers to shed an intriguing perspective into this subject. One captured strangers who look stunningly alike, while other linked recent pictures of people with their former selves, and yet another, combined faces of members of the same family.
Variations of the theme go further, using photo manipulation effects, for instance, to create a perfectly symmetric match of only one side of someone’s face split in two. Or trying to explain why some ‘complimentary’ personalities attract each other, based not on resemblance but on intuitive behavioral and genetic factors.
And then there are the case of celebrities, both contemporary, and those whose previous physical likeness have been somewhat spotted in pictures of the past. 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

We’re Not Alone!

The Secret, Trillion Lives
Crawling In & On Your Body

The late Carl Sagan may have said, we’re all made of starstuff. But deep down, what we really are is a multitude of microorganisms, 100 trillion of them, some part of our natural physiology, but most totally foreign. We wouldn’t have lasted this long on Earth without them.
While cells are the bricks that form our bodies, even before birth, an ever growing, self-renewing, array of microscopic creatures call us their home and, gasp, may also call the shots about everything we think we are, from how healthy or moody, to when we’ll finally expire.
So much for freewill. This invisible trillionaire community, living of our so well washed and fed bodies, shelters charitable organisms, which allow us to survive what would’ve killed us in the past, and downright lethal pathogens, for which there’s no defense. And yet others are content to just control whether we’ll follow that new Twitter trend.
To learn about these entities, simple but formidable enough to erase a city’s population, is to find multiple new questions to every doubt we may clarify. It’s also to wonder how come a brainless, single-cell being can play such a complex role in the evolutionary ladder.
Notice that we haven’t mentioned viruses, so much in the headlines lately with the Ebola outbreak. But if bacteria can be foreign to us, viruses are totally aliens, as they have no cell or internal structure. All killing’s done with the thinnest protein layer and a string of nucleic acid. We’d let those dogs lie for now, if we could.
Bacteria, however, can actually be our allies, and our guts hold enough of them to actually defeat an alien invasion, as H.G. Wells‘ illustrated so well in War of the Worlds. Not for long, though, as we overuse antibiotics, which kill both good and bad ones, and give rise to a new breed of superbugs. Watch out.

MAFIA BUGS & ZOMBIE SPIDERS
Speaking of evolution, a step above, more complex and considerably larger, are parasites, which are tiny insects, still invisible to our poor eye sights, but very capable all the same. Nature is full of them, and now we’re also learning that some can be pretty clever, controlling bigger creatures. Including us.
There’s one, for instance, that once inside a bumblebee, can force it to become food for its larvae, not before digging its own grave, though. They called it a Mafia Bug, but you haven’t heard it from us. Curiously, such approach to domination is emulated by other, larger creatures, such as some kind of wasps.
The Pompiliadae, a.k.a. Spider Wasp, is so called for a reason: it poisons and paralyzes without killing a spider, drags it to its burrow, bury it, and lay eggs on top of it, so it will be eaten still alive by its larvae. Pretty horrific. Another wasp does something similar: it turns the spider into a zombie construction worker.
Well, you may say, at least it teaches it a marketable skill. Except that it also paralyzes the spider and lays its eggs, etc. Not a fate one would think dignified enough for anyone, but, Continue reading

Racy Meals

Our Next Course May Need to
Add Bugs & Invasive Species

Not to spoil your appetite but with millions threatened to die of starvation — never mind the records amount of food we’ve been producing — and climate change squishing us and one another, away from any bodies of water, you may not like what’s for dinner.
Indeed, the main source of nourishment of tomorrow’s meal may be something you’re used to squash yourself: insects. And if you’re not up to the crunch, and by flies, have the means to turn down that protein, do everyone a big favor and go after some invasive species.
Any way you slice it, our meat and grain industry won’t cut it. Since stomachs are made to be filled, let’s hope that, rather than dirt and junk food, we develop a knack for recycling and regurgitating what we’re so used to toss. Bless our prophets, the dumpster divers.
To be sure, many already survive on a diet rich in crawling critters and hairy creepers, and one can tell by the way we say it, how deluded we still allow ourselves to be. But the time will come when we’ll learn or starve, and for the majority, it may be as simple as that.
It’s one thing, though, eat what dwindling forests still have plenty to offer. It may take guts to pick one up and swallow it whole, but with time, anyone can be a forager. It’s an entirely different affair, though, for those living in the cities, just like most of us.
Again, we hope your stomach is strong, but that disgusting creature that just moved its antennae and scurried up behind your sofa will have to be on the menu. Along with the fat subway rodents and the unsanitary geese that no longer migrate away from that fetid city pond.
That’s when grown men will cry like inmates, to no one’s sympathy, and children will dispute with feral pets the scraps of civilization. Just like the increasing millions of landfill dwellers, we may need to engage into a higher survival gear, so the pickings won’t be slim.

CRUNCHY DELIGHTS
The first two, arguably most important things anyone needs to know about eating bugs is, one, that it’s good for the planet. And two, that you may be already eating them, without knowing it. That’s not the case, of course, of indigenous peoples in pretty much all continents, who’ve been eating them from time immemorial.
Ants, locusts, beetles, worms, crickets, water… boatmen (we’re not quite there yet), flies and even stinkbugs, are central to all the protein
Continue reading

Marble & Heavenly Bodies


Michelangelo’s Grocery
List & the Finger of Galileo

What if future generations would wind up knowing famous people not for what we celebrate them for, but for something entirely unexpected? What if, in the big scheme, that’s what’s all about, or rather, how would you like to be known a century from now?
Michelangelo Buonarroti and Galileo Galilei, whose mastery of arts and sciences summarizes much of mankind’s greatness, may be safe from such a vexing fate. Nevertheless, recent news about them did make us wonder, over 400 years after their time.
When Illinois-based weapons maker ArmaLite outfit Michelangelo’s masterpiece David with an assault rifle, it committed not just an indignant act of vandalism for profit, but also insulted four centuries of enlightenment and aspirations to transcend our destructive nature.
Almost as offensive to any human who’s ever contemplate the size of the universe, let alone Galileo‘s memory, was a National Science Foundation study, that found that one in four Americans, or some 80 million of us, simply doesn’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun.

INTERTWINED LEGENDS
It’s very likely that both ArmaLite and those millions of our fellow voters remain unaware that Michelangelo died 450 years and a month ago last Tuesday, exactly three days after Galileo was born, both in the same region known today as Italy. Or even what greatness we’re talking about here.
After all, it’s really a coincidence that they were joined by such a happenstance of date and place. But it’s no casual fact that they both defined their age and set the standards to all others that followed it, in ways that still resonate with our world today.
And it’s a bit petty to castigate people for caring little whether Michelangelo’s art makes us a bit more deserving of the wonders of our own time, or that Galileo’s telescope introduced us to the stars, from which we inherited the dust that makes up our bodies.
But times, alas, are no longer open to wonders and enigmas and marvels of the physical world. While the Renaissance bred geniuses like Galileo and Michelangelo, and they, in return, doted us with their indelible foresight and imagination, we got used to ignoring every star above us, as the song goes.
We seem content to juxtapose the sublime with the abhorrent, like David with a gun, and relish on the comfort of long discredited beliefs, like placing the Earth at the center of the universe. No wonder they 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

Floating Enigmas


Adrift at Sea, Ghost Ship
Carries Crew of Cannibal Rats

Most eerie accounts of ships lost or found abandoned, without a shadow of life aboard, fuel nightmares and horror tales. Take the Mary Celeste, for instance, whose missing crew left all possessions and jumped out of her in a hurry, on a clear night in 1872.
The Lyubov Orlova cruiser, though, belongs to another category of fright: the life left behind is not human but feral. Rodents with sharp teeth run around breeding and eating each other. As they carry on their blood bath, the ship drifts towards the North Atlantic.
The Russian-made vessel is only the latest to be cast adrift, but unlike memorable cases in the past, the fate of her last crew is well known: unpaid by the owners, they all left her at a Canadian harbor, where she remained until she broke lose during a storm.
Penniless and prosaic, or lucky as some would put it, the fate of the Lyubov Orlova crew diverges from accounts of many a ghost ship, found empty, or lost forever and possibly sunk. At least they lived to hopefully find new employment, or another line of business.
Those who manned other legendary ships, however, were never to be seen again. Besides the Mary Celeste, there’s the Caroll A. Derring, with its 1921 swashbuckling tale of pirates and the Bermuda Triangle, and the Zebrina, found empty in 1917, with likely hints that the war had come on board.
But just before we lose perspective, the worst possible nightmarish scenarios notwithstanding, nothing at sea can be more terrifying than a shipwreck, both for its potential for unredeeming loss and ability to strike fear into the hearts of sailing souls. Neither has any ship disappeared with a large crew so far. Knock on wood.
And no nautical tragedy encapsulates a higher confluence of fears associated with high seas than the wreck of the Essex in 1820, with its horrific tale of a giant whale hitting it twice, and survivors resorting to cannibalism. The episode inspired at least one masterpiece, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, published 30 years later.

THE BLOOD OF EARTH
Giving its primordial existence, though, the vastness of the bodies of water that interconnect and divide our receding lands do instil an inordinate amount of irrational fears and spikes in our fright bones, in diametrically ways that terra firma represents hope and redemption when it’s finally within reach.
Thalassophobia is, in fact, one of the arguably most primeval fears for humans, more intense than even the fear of heights. For our inadequate bodies, not made to soar above the clouds or breathe underwater, can still better avoid the former, whereas to drown, one Continue reading

In Their Own Rites

Brides, Babies, the
Dead & Your Ex-Lovers

And now for something completely different: need to cry a lot at your wedding? Check. Thought about giving the bones of your deceased relatives a brush? Check. What about dropping your baby off a balcony? Check that too. Aren’t we dizzy yet? Wait, the best is always last.
Ever thought of introducing your lover to your former partners? There’s a whole fair for that. Not to worry, though; each of these rituals is confined to a different culture; few partake of more than one of them. Besides, most of the population, of course, simply skip them all.
It’s not that we’re about to go all NatGeo on you, after the week we all just had. But this being Friday, reading about what people do around the world to give their lives meaning may feel just like putting out our own skin to dry: we have no choice but to be ‘us’ most of the time, but no one says we can’t get out of ourselves and enjoy the pasture.
Or something, we’re not sure. The only thing that may be undeniable about all these, though, is that none of this community rites you’re about to read below are harmful to those who enjoy participating in them. On the contrary, they’re are important cultural signposts that bring everyone together, and boy, don’t we need more examples like that?
So let’s get to it without bias, shall we? After all, heaven knows we all have our share of strange and mostly hardly logical rites and little Continue reading

Close Encounters

A Brush With Three
Magnificent Whales

A visual dialogue between a Big Blue and a man longing to understand it. A dead Pygmy ashore, and a two-million year old puzzle. And an eye-to-eye with a giant Right whale. As the alarms sound all across the land, deep underwater these mysterious creatures remain elusive.
While only a minority among us has managed to touch them, soon enough not even that will be possible. The Requiem is about the biggest animal on Earth on a fast track to disappearance. The dead one was not supposed to be around. And a Right one comes up close and personal.
As awareness grows about the impossibility of keeping in captivity wild animals em general, and marine mammals in particular, we face a quandary: how to reintroduce them back into their natural habitat, when it’s already depleted and has been steadily shrinking?
As we learn more about these stupendous creatures, we realize how inadequate zoos and seawater resorts are to provide for the wild life under their care. Dwindling funds and business constraints have often turned these facilities into the main factor conspiring against the animals’ own survival.
The case of cetaceans, specially, is particularly tragic. Despite their huge brains, and their presence on Earth for millions of years, we Continue reading

Spooky Rites

Dining, Dancing & Moving
In Right Next to the Dead

Compared to other species, humans are surprisingly coy about death and the dying. To cover up our fear of what may lie beyond, we came up with all sorts of theories and possibilities, beliefs and rituals. Whether they resemble what happens once you die, we’ll never know.
What’s for sure is that most of what we do about the dead, we do it with introspection, almost as a way to put in a good word on our own behalf. Mostly, that is. For guess how they go about it in India, the Philippines, Madagascar, and Spain. Hint: hardly anyone cries.
In fact, if there’s something in common about those theories and rituals, is that they may be as old as the very own business of death and dying. A lot of what we know today about those related or branched out of the human family throughout the ages, we found it in their burial sites.
The way we’ve been laying to rest both loved ones and avowed foes has informed our evolution as social beings, and our respect to that moment of reckoning we must all face. Since arguably no one has come back to tell us what’s on the other side, we do what we can to show that we care all the same.
But let’s not get too consumed with the myriad of ways and reasons we may dispatch each other to the great beyond, and focus instead on four Continue reading

Deep Net


Diving Into the
World Wild Web

The wonder about the Internet is that it’s still expanding at an incalculable rate, and it remains defiantly free and democratic, despite all attempts at controlling it. So no one should be embarrassed to admit they’re far from knowing even a fraction of the estimated billion sites currently on it.
What few know, though, is that its accessible side is only a percentage of its real size. A much larger WWW realm lies just below its surface. The bowels of the web, known as Deep Web, are unreachable by search engines. And just like an ocean, if the surface is fraught with risks, its depths can be fatal.
Ironically, to find out more about this hidden world it’s enough to Google it. And what such search brings up is truly staggering. For starters, the bulk of data found on the Deep Web is some four to five hundred times larger than what’s available to everyone, about 6,500 terabytes compared to the meek 20 terabytes you can access.
For that billion of sites, there are close to 550 billion of unique records, that you probably won’t be admitted to, and as you’ll find out, nor should you try to. That is, unless you know really well what you’re getting yourself into. Consider that a fair warning.
Of course, not all that info is really relevant to the lives of the Continue reading