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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Vis-A-Virus

Dirty Little Secrets
About Hand Washing

For at least a century now, it’s common knowledge that one of the essential conditions for good health is to wash your hands often. That’s still true in the age of sanitizers and nothing like the virus du jour to highlight that. It’s also when most people realize that six seconds under running water doesn’t clean anything.
The personal care industry makes billions every year but we still prioritize appearance, voice tone, timing, and a series of other silly parameters to gauge whether the person in front of us is friend or foe. And yet they could kill us with a handshake. No wonder the doctor who became obsessed with cleanliness lost his mind.
What’s curious is that a dweller of any modern metropolis does value showering daily or almost, and depending on education, brushing their teeth a least twice a day. Somehow the initial step, though, and despite the usual comforts of contemporary life, like indoor plumbing, taking the time to wash up is treated as a formality.

It’s hard to understand how come such a crucial habit fell through the cracks of culture. Or that we even survived to this age. The evidence clean hands do save lives is around for so long, just like soap, and in the big scheme of things, time spent washing up is negligible compared to other human activities.
And yet, here we are, with the coronavirus wreaking havoc those very activities on a global scale. The benefits of this simple habit to improve global health cannot be overestimated and neither can the growth of the soap and cosmetics industry during the same period. Human awareness though went the other way.
FIGHTING GERMS WITH ALCOHOL
Hand sanitizers are an ultra-modern invention likely devised to quell germophobic anxieties and up to a few months ago, could be found at every counter of every food and retail places in America. It’s not so available anymore and for a while hoarders and mad-greedy merchants thought their price should be many times higher.
Amazon and other delivery companies – which by the way are making a killing – have stepped in to curb price gouging, but the initial widespread adoption of antibacterial soaps prompted a number of alarming studies about their long-term effects. That’s why the FDA banned Triclosan, despite industry efforts against it.
The current virus outbreak may potentially produce yet another unforeseen economic impact: to boost the moribund corn industry. A perennial recipient of government aid, corn depends on two factors for its commercial viability, subsidies and the fact corn syrup is now added to arguably 90% of American food. Thus the demand for corn-made alcohol is expected to spike.
AREN’T YOU FORGETTING SOMETHING?
But dirty habits die hard. Consider the study by late 2003 Ig Nobel Prize in Literature John Trinkaus of CUNY, published at the Annals of Improbable Research. It recorded public use of a hand-sanitizing station in the lobby of a teaching hospital, with heavy traffic of medical professionals, patients, and their relatives.
Of a total of 500 observations made, only three out of 108 healthcare practitioners stopped and used the station, which runs (more)
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* We’re Not Alone
* Blowing in the Wind
* Tiny Friends

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The Other Fourth

The Amendment That Ascertains
Power to This Independence Day

Dispensing all pomp and circumstance, national birthdays have a way of turning into numbing occasions for grandstanding patriotism and overindulgent gluttony. It’s no different in the U.S., even as Independence Day marks a moment of rebellion and self-sacrifice.
That being said, flags and (non-military) parades are ok, but it can’t hurt to focus on the constitutional side of that storied statement signed by the 13 colonies, which Congress adopted 243 years ago today, and whether it still holds sway as the highest law of the land.
As such, after almost two and a half centuries, it’s held up pretty well. As the nation went through its growing pains, it managed to extend the original liberal slant of its founding documents, even as it amended them, while also adding some truly lofty goals as far as individual rights are concerned. Yes, that can, and it seems to be already changing. Still.
The paradox about those high standards is that they’ve made the U.S. Constitution both an example of steely idealism committed to a set of amendments, and also a pragmatic tool, vulnerable to be waged against the very principles it vows to defend. Take now, for instance.
Despite having enjoyed a full century of world economic and military domination, without stealing land or doing away with its institutions, the past decades have presented serious challenges to its tradition of constitutionality and the rule of the law. Need to say more?
It brings no joy to mention this today, but with two long, unjust wars, thousands of American and foreign lives lost, billions of dollars wasted into the buildup of a scary military complex, the U.S. is more than ever perceived globally as a bully, with no respect to its own legal precepts. How did it come to that? Well, way before that rotten orange stench took over the White House’s lawns, that’s for sure.

(BOUNCED) CHECKS & IMBALANCES
The framers of the Constitution ‘did not want to rely on the promises of good motivations or good intents from the government,’ Professor of Law Jonathan Turley told the actor John Cusack in a 2013 interview. ‘They created a system where no branch had enough authority to govern alone, a system of shared and balanced powers.’
Turley blasted the Obama administration’s efforts to block prosecution of CIA operatives accused of torture during the Bush era as a flagrant infringement of international law. ‘Soon after 9/11, government officials started to talk about how the Constitution is making us weaker, how we can’t function by giving people due process.’ He was right, of course; some of them are indeed back in power.
Remember, that’s when Edward Snowden offered proof that the NSA had been spying on Americans and even foreign dignitaries for years. But as it happened with rumors (more)
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* Natural Law
* Pleading the Fifth

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Man Made

We Build Automata So to
Mend Our Broken Dreams

‘We’re not computers, Sebastian, we’re physical,’ says Replicant Roy Batty to the brilliant but emotionally stunted genetic designer J.F., in Blade Runner, after he asked Roy and Priss to ‘do something.’
We’ve been asking these quasi-beings that we create to ever so closely resemble our own likeness, to do things for us since at least the 300s BCE, when mathematician Archytas built his steam powered dove.
From that first artificial bird to today’s wonders of modern animatronics on the screen, and Japanese robots all around, we’ve built a hefty utopian timeline of artificial bodies, made of assorted materials or other body parts. No wonder, they also litter the stuff of our nightmares.
Designed to obey, first, then to go where no human could possibly survived, as Philip K. Dick envisioned, we seemed to have this immemorial angst of beating god at his own game and develop a more faithful companion than our own kind, only to get frustrated, if they’d grow too loyal, or killed, if they’d turn on us.
Fictionally, of course. Even though we should’ve known better by now, we still pursue a variety of traditions of supernatural beings doing things for us or to us, creating and destroying our world at will, acting just like summarized versions of the supreme invisible deity billions believe controls our every move on this planet.
From the Golem to Godzilla, from Adam to Frankenstein, we’re transfixed by the thought of being capable of creating or even conceiving another animated body, made out of mud and plastic, to sooth our desperate loneliness in a vast, totally indifferent universe.
It could as well be that we’re just bored, or no longer can stand any of the other 6,999,999,999 bodies cramped and imprisoned in this tiny rock, swirling steadily but completely out of our control, and dream of one day be on the other side of the puppeteering strings.

PROMETHEUS’S FAILED DELIVERANCE
Curiously, in our millennial zeal of building the perfect beast, never mind the billions around us we care little about, we got no close to breathe life into any of them. At the most, we may’ve perfected yet another almost obsolete obsession in the process: the clockwork.
Thus the centuries-old automata, marvels of mechanical prowess, and the industry that once thrived manufacturing them, may have reached flights of imagination and promise across time, but are now all but reduced to that wonder of functionality and futility: the Roomba.
About those exquisite androids of yore, The Writer is in a particular time capsule all of its own. Designed by Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot, it’s a bundle of 6,000 programmable moving pieces, wrapped within the wooden body of a boy.
It looks like a vintage toy but it’s way more than that. (more)
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* Second Variety
* Not Human
* Babies Are Us

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Split Ends

A Brush of Fresh Hair or How
Pubic Curls May Save Your Life

Few things resemble more our evolutionary pedigree than body hair. Culturally, having a ‘full head’ of it means being young, beautiful, healthy, even powerful. Until it departs on its own, we spent years combing it, cutting it, shaving it, dying it, and splitting it with aplomb.
It’s another story, though, with hair elsewhere but on top of the head. A reminder of how fast we went from furry animal to naked ape, we’ve set strict, and clearly gender-biased, social codes to dealing with its appearance. For ear and nose strays, though, antipathy is genderless.
The inconvenient truth about hair is that it’s easily matted with sexism, racial intolerance, and political and religious oppression. It can get greasy with prejudice, scorched dry with the dust of old traditions, and offensively malodorous, reeking of staled rites and bad blood.
In other cases, the way we look at hair or lack thereof reveals the huge gap between our general perception of what each gender is supposed to look like, and what evolution has determined was the best way to cope with changing climate and environmental conditions. We adapted and changed to survive, but often still carry the phantom of an obsolete, long discarded psychological association.
Chest hair, for example, long thought to be a symbol of manhood and testosterone dominance, has recently been found to actually be a deterrent for potential female mates. Scientists long knew that women’s preference for hairlessness may have been a way to avoid lice and other tiny mites that would enjoy the comfort of chest hair in unkempt males of yore (read, all males born some 10,000 years ago).
Even though that’s hopefully no longer the case (as hygiene habits have evolved), the pattern is still present: a paper, published on the Archives of Sexual Behavior journal, shows that women still prefer ‘relatively hair-free guys,’ over hirsute types, even in areas where that kind of parasite is not a realistic threat to humans. Would skinny Williamsburg hipsters chuckle at this notion too?

THE BRAZILIAN RAPUNZEL
For a while, Natasha Moraes de Andrade had one of the longest hairs in the world, which caught the skittish eye of international tabloids. But when the shantytown girl from Rio sold her most marketable asset at 12, she felt relieved. Easy to see why: some things can make anyone drunk with big dreams. Like her, there are many whose dreams haven’t yet been crushed, bless her souls.
China’s Xie Qiuping, for instance, whose hair measured at one point 18ft 5in – still far from Guinness Record material –  also sold it. With the proceeds, she got to do things many 12-year-olds take it for granted, like riding a bike, or not having to spend hours (more)
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* Neverlands
* Show it, Grow it

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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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Neverlands

When Snow White, Rapunzel & Oz
Meant Much More Than Fairy Tales

Video games may be the modern equivalent of fairy tales. But if child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim was right, those ancient stories about damsels in distress and their rescuing knights are far from having exhausted their appeal. The good old doc should know it.
He survived the Nazis only to fall in disgrace for enhancing his resume and being nasty to his pupils. Alas, the man who taught us about warding off life’s demons, could not handle his own. He suffocated himself to death with a plastic bag wrapped around his head in 1990.
After such a florid intro, though, we’re switching gears to focus on some hardly known facts behind two classics of children’s literature, Rapunzel and Snow White, and a book written a century ago that became a breakthrough movie, the Wizard of Oz.
They all share an underlying common trait: the confusion and hardship typical of impoverished children going through puberty. While predating even the concept of childhood and adolescence, there’s never doubt about what demographics they were catering to.
Behind a veneer of an idealized world to which the young protagonists long to belong and conquer, and a patina of virtue and redemption righting all wrongs, deep down, the stories are suffused with intrigue and betrayal, brutal competition and carnage.

TALES FROM THE DARK AGES
For all the high-def graphics and sensory numbness-inducing FX of video games, and all modern entertainment for that matter, they’re no match to the emotional intensity and masterly manipulation of deep-rooted fears, which are the currency of fairy tales.
All are about lonely children transitioning to adulthood, trapped by conspiring circumstances and on the verge of defeat until the very end, often when their rivals perish. Strife and miserable family bonds are never far from center stage, and neither is the threat of annihilation.
For Bettelheim, beyond their imagery, these tales are loved for offering kids happy outcomes, which they can come up with on their own. Behind the Dark Ages’ ambiance and archaic social settings, (more)
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Medieval Crafts


Would You Rather Find a Job or
Be a Vagabond 500 Years Ago?

If you’ve been feeling left out of this so-called gig economy, imagine how you’d fare in another time. As in traveling back in time to, say, 500 years ago, just to check one of London’s job listing boards circa 1550. In fact, who hasn’t imagined, from the safety of one’s mind, of course, how Medieval townsfolk went about their business?
You could meet Cornelis Bos, for instance, who enjoyed drawing what looks like taxis driven by satyrs. Have a chat with Willielmus de Lench, a grain thresher, or try a brew with Matild de Grafton, an alewife, all common names and occupations of the time. Or you could find easier pickings as a jarkman, another word for vagrant.
There are plenty of records about that particularly gruesome time to be alive anywhere, but as the saying goes, history is told by the powerful. So while you may be wise to King Arthur and his gallant knights, there’s no word about their ostler, the guy who’d take care of their horses. Which, as most occupations of poor people, would run in families.
Don’t be discouraged though. Even if we may not find a suitable position for a person of your qualifications, you still may learn a thing or two about how people would make a living then, some of the common surnames that have survived to these days, and the surprisingly variety of outlaw types populating the era.
Oh, and throughout this post, check the exquisitely elaborated 1550 art of Cornelis Bos. You may as well pick a few interesting subjects to use in your next job interview, so to give the recruiter a bone to chew, while you think about how to answer that minefield of a question they all love to throw at you: so, what have you been doing all this time?

WORKING FOR THE MAN
As anyone may have already noticed, a lot of traditional surnames have originated from common occupations, geographical locations and even physical characteristics. In English, that’s likely the case if your last name is Baker, Brown, Blacksmith, Coleman, Taylor, White and so on.
But you’d be surprised with the bulk of professions still relevant, five centuries and a whole universe of technological advances later. People still work in government, or for someone, have their own business, or simply own a crooked idea of what it means to make a honest buck.
One could argue, though, that few thieves or professional criminals would’ve dressed up as wealthy people then, while now, heyday of sorts for the lying business, we may have one at the White House. But really? What when they’d pillage and burn to the ground a whole country? That’d assure them graces and riches from aristocracy and royal titles to boot. So, it all always comes down to being humans.
For the government, you could be a catchpole, a ‘chicken catcher,’ a hayward, an officer in charge of fences and hedges, and a liner, who’d set property boundaries. You wouldn’t want to mess with a bailiff, who could arrest and execute you, but you could be friends with reeves, which was how church wardens were called, and wouldn’t hurt you to know a master of the revels, those in charge of court entertainment.

VALUABLE LEARNING SKILLS
At large, there were military and religious occupations, sailors and scholars, flora and fauna laborers, your usual share of artists and entertainers (we heard that a bard, some Shakespeare dude, is quite good), and an infinitude of craftsmen and merchants, a category to which alehouse keeper Matild belonged to, as did olde pal de Lench.
But perhaps it’s under the ‘regular folk’ lists where demand for a variety of skill sets would get you by, as well as some of those names could be found. Did some traveling? you could be a palmer, someone (more)
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Dead Can Dance

The Hotel for the Departed, a City of
Mausoleums & a Coffin-Making Class

In the age of transcontinental traveling, it’s not easy to be buried in your hometown. Unless you choose to live where you plan to die. But for your grieving loved ones, nothing like a hotel to send you off in style. Better yet, why not build your own coffin?
Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. Like our ancestors, we angst about what to do with the deceased and imagine those we’ll leave behind will surely grieve over us. By then, though, the great absentee of this party – us – won’t care one way or another.
We build crypts, enact rituals and come up with ways to memorialize the lives that were, so to transcend, or rather forget, the natural fact that once we’re born, we’re ever closer to the end. But even as we’re off and running towards oblivion, there’s still a lot of candles to light up.
Granted, there are those who truly couldn’t care less. Others never saw a life they didn’t want to murder. And yet, another class of hopefuls spend their waking hours, and loads of cash, trying to outlast the unrevealed count of the days already allotted to their name.
For when that moment comes, regardless of who you’ve been so far, monk or gambler, pious or psychopath, well, it will come. Regardless. The only thing that it’s up to you is whether you’ll ease into that night, or resist. Word of caution, though: it won’t make a damn difference.
CITY OF THE DEAD
Creeped out yet? Let’s climb an ancient mountaintop, where each family has its own mausoleum. From the distance, the remote village of Dargavs looks like a collection of medieval white houses, popping up at the tip of one of the five ridges of North Ossetia, Russia.
It’s only once you get closer, after a trying three-hour trek through steep hills, that you realize that the structures are actually stone crypts where locals have been burying their loved ones for centuries.
The ‘city’ is an ancient Ossetian cemetery and each family knows (more)
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* A Life, Abridged
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Unanswerable Prayers

Between Prediction & Petition,
We Beg to Differ With Our Lot

Someone once said that faith was created so man could argue with fate. Or god. Or whatever the hell we weren’t pleased about. A last ditch effort, our first and ultimate resort against reality, as we can’t change the outcome, and evidence usually points the other way.
David Bowie’s death was too much? A petition demanded his immediate return. Falling oil prices? That’s because the year started on a Friday, according to a Medieval prediction. A woman remained a virgin after her new born? 2000 years and many still care to vouch for that.
We simply can’t allow the thought that things may happen at random. Unable to accept that everything around us out-scales us by physical distance and impossibility of time, we choose not to ever be ready to hand over our self-appointed role of comptroller of the universe.
Which, as most things, remains as oblivious to our existence as a cat is to frantic calls to come back at once. We’ll scream, and curse, and swear we’ll move mountains if necessary. But the cosmic enigma, and that little ball of fur, won’t even give us the benefit of a glance.
So we create our temples, and churches, and rituals, and commandments. So to make sure that we won’t be forgotten. And our deeds on this planet will last. And our presence will be memorable. We’ll do that even knowing full well that our ashes will be scattered.

VENETIAN FORETELLING
That’s what we do; we’re convinced that if we tell a story enough times, it’ll become part of the historical record. Science may have amassed crushing evidence against it, but we’ll still recount our tales as if there’s a purpose to it all. We’ll still do it, bless our bleeding hearts.
The Zibaldone da Canal, a compendium of relevant issues to 14th century merchants, such as Arithmetics, spices, weights and (more)
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Happy New Weird


If the World Gets Upside
Down, Learn How to Float

Much has been lost in 2017, or is under threat. Our dignity as a nation, shared respect for facts, telling the truth without a subpoena involved. But we’re not giving up our ownership over what’s weird just yet.
See, since we’re ruled by someone with no regard for clarity, the very concept of what’s bizarre has become twisted. Well, no longer. Weird belongs to reality itself, has its own shine, and we’re its keepers.
But before highlighting some of the brightest spots, where the nonsensical and the truly odd reign supreme, and where no orange human has been before, here’s where the quirk and the surreal are actually enlightening. The Improbable Research, for instance, with its gloriously instructive Annals magazine and annual Ig Noble Awards.
Yes, it may never occurred to you that how long a cow stands may determine how long it will lie down (a 2013 award), or the effects of music on angry drivers (a recent paper), but boy, what a delight to learn. For these are accomplished scientists, fulfilling the ‘first laugh, then think’ motto. Yes, now you know.
On another end, there’s I Fought the Law, a book about some American laws, which may or may not be real. It all could’ve come from the same warped realm where the 45th seems to belong to, including suspicions that its author is pulling our collective legs. But what if somebody does want to ban the Stripes and Stars from being planted on a bar of soap?
In between, Pareidolia and your garden variety abnormalities of all suits, from time travelers, their blurry pictures and eerily-looking guns, to kinky children’s plays and traditional, but no less unsettling, national habits. Some quite unsavory indeed, but hey, haven’t you heard about the working, golden-platted toilet boil they’re shipping to the White House? So there you have it.

A NEW YORK CITY BAR BARS LITERALLY
The East Village Continental used to be a dive where $5 would get you good drunk to go. Now, $20 buys you only a literally washed-down Appletini. Just don’t dare saying ‘literally’ to the bartender; it’ll get you banned. That and mentioning the bankruptcy that will close it in July.
Or maybe it’s the clientele of NYU bros, who came with the onslaught of school dorms in the area. In any case, this dive is doomed and yes, the only good thing still good about the place is that it’s still a dive. Or maybe it’s now something else. Literally. Whatever.

NO, THIS BIRD CAN’T FLY WITH YOU
One of the most enduring cartoon characters ever created is Linus and his blanket, which he uses for emotional support. Charles M. Schulz knew a thing or two about Freud, and therapy, and how sometimes we all reach out for something to provide us relief from a troubled world.
But United Airlines sees it as a stunt, apparently. Even as animal companions are as common in air travel as, well, lack of leg room, the company has recently refused to let a woman board the plane with her pet peacock. And mentioning Freud or Schulz didn’t help her either.

BOILED BATS, COLD IGUANAS & FROZEN SHARKS
Evidence of climate change has been overwhelming. Hurricanes, wild fires, and that’s just talking about last year in the U.S. (more)
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* That Can’t Be Right
* Better Halves

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Hallow Talk

Dolls, Dummies & Porcelain Gore: the
Unsinkable Allure of the Talking Dead

Most people would never admit it, but there are no two ways about it: we like Halloween because it’s creepy. We like the gore associated with it, the scary stuff, and the lure of death, breathing coldly upon our neck. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.
What’s curious in American culture, however, is that even talking about death and the departed and what happens to decaying bodies and what we’re supposed to tell our child about their deceased relatives remains taboo for the whole year, except on October 31.
We use the children’s still unguarded approach to the world as a perfect Trojan horse of an excuse for peeking into the depths of our dark corners, where fears reign supreme, and the sun never shines. And tell everyone that it’s all for their own good.
But heaven forbid if they’re to inquiry about the finality of death, or the possibility – fiercely denied by billions but ever and again confirmed by all the evidence anyone can come up with – that this is it, there’s nothing beyond the Big Sleep, and one’d better making it count while it lasts.
We entrust the wee ones with the task of facing the most terrifying recesses of our psyche, while at the same time disenfranchising them from developing a critical mind about, say, coma, or rigor mortis, embalming, or cremation, and all fun things in between. No wonder they place so much currency on material goods these days.
Whether there’s a point in this cheap thrill of vicariously exposing children to dread towards the unknown, which we all share throughout life, just so they get use to feeling frightened, is truly up to discussion.
For what we, grownups, get out of Halloween is so rewarding to that nook within us which enjoys being spooked that all damage it may inflict on tender minds seems negligible. After all, we tell ourselves, soon enough, they’ll have to handle all of that on their own.
We’d have no problem assuming whole heartedly that we love Halloween. Even as memories of spending those hot South American days of our youth at cemeteries, visiting families and friends who went before, are not our particularly favorite recollections.
We still treasure that we did the time, and remember the smells of fresh flowers and sweat, mixed with a faint scent of recently dug up graves still encrusted deep in our brains. Not quite like the Mexicans, who actually party and camp at the gravesite on the Dia de los Muertos, but still a day to honor all souls, specially the finados.
So we could now proceed to tell rehashed tales about ghosts, goblins, strange apparitions and odd Jack O’Lanterns, stories about unexplained occurrences supposedly told to trustworthy people, rumors from the friend of a friend who’s heard an eerie chime echoing somewhere, perhaps even a dead celebrity sighting or two. But we’d rather not.
As usual, we’ll divert, digress, er, depart from that general theme and find our own niche to mark the date. We’ll focus, (more)
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Read Also:
* The Flours of Evil
* All Hallows Eve
* Hallow Ground

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Robbers Like Us

The (Bad) Cons That Men Do
& One Hell of a Clever Woman

If opportunity breeds the thief, con men are born ready. Any seasoned pro will describe an one-trick pony like it’s the Mona Lisa. Or sound it as if it’s rocket science. Just keep an eye on your wallet. Few get away with it, though. For every Ronald Biggs, who robbed a train in 1963, and spent his life in Rio, there’s Andy Thoothmans, who broke into a Kentucky store and came out naked, covered in peanut butter.
There’s the Parachute Jumper, the unknown daredevil who jumped off a plane over the Pacific Northwest in 1971, with a lot of cash. And there’s João dos Santos, caught opening a banking account with a Jack Nicholson picture ID. Still, none is in 
Sarah Jane Cochrane-Ramseys’ league. She made us all proud turning tables on the notorious brotherhood of Nigerian scammers, by swindling one out of $30,000.

The sudden urge to raid Colltales files for this old post was prompted by the arrest of Geddel Vieira Lima, a former Brazilian government official and personal ally to President Michel Temer. As it goes, he’d had hidden a record breaking $16 million in cash.
Far from the sharpest tool in Temer’s circle, he released a tearful self-produced video. Not to explain the dough, but to thank cops for finding it, because, poor soul, he’d ‘forgotten’ where on earth he’d stashed it.
Fact is, in all crafts, there are highly-skillful artists and ridiculously inept blunderers who’d do everybody a favor switching professions. Point taken. But if you rob people for a living, while keep failing at it so spectacularly, a simple change of trade may not be enough to get you anywhere.
It’s another story for those who succeed. Even when they’ve never heard of Victor Lustig and his 10 Commandments for Con Artists, those are the ones who show a particular streak of sociopathology as to make them both incredibly talented at deceiving everyone around, and often times, very likable chaps too.

Some professions are actually text-book examples of such double standard. Wall Street is full of financial wizards whose amorality and disregard for rules are routinely rewarded with obscene personal wealth. Politicians and security experts too, with the added aspect that they can be either legit or criminal or both. And technology hackers are always looking for opportunities within the industries they hack.
Such is the nature of the beast, that often society is eager to incarcerate the inept and reward the clever. Persecute the meek but let the friend-of-a-friend walk. Go after the messenger but ignore (more)
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Read Also:
* The Far Out Report
* Beautiful Bandit
* Police Blotter

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Everything Must Go

Houdini, Who Was Not a Believer,
Died on the Day of the Living Dead

Harry Houdini once made a promise that he was sure not to honor: if there’s life after death, he said, I’ll let you know. If he could pull that trick, it’d be a treat. But since that Halloween, 90 years ago, he’s sent no message, denying validation to many a believer.
The irony is that the great illusionist was a debunker of mediums, and left a coded message with his wife to unmask fraudsters. He knew the Big Sleep pulls no bluffs. Just don’t tell that to pilgrims who every year flock to his grave at New York Machpelah Cemetery, in Queens.
It must have taken guts. And those he had, until they literally burst out by blows, administered with his consent, by an admirer. When he died of acute Peritonitis, hundreds of new cults had flooded the world to claim ownership over the ‘supernatural’ phenomena and challenge organized religion.
The dominant figure of the so called Occult Movement, Helena Blavatsky, had died less than 30 years before, but not before inspiring a lot of deranged minds into believing that they too, had something different about them. And they did, alright, although not exactly what they believe they had.

NO RESPECT TO BELLS & WHISTLES
At the turn of the 19th century, backwater America was festering too with the roots of these messianic cults, led by an assortment of lunatics, snake oil salesmen, and plain mentally ill visionaries, many of which turned later into some of the tax-exempted religious faiths we have today.
A crucial difference between those who time forgot and say, a Joseph Smith, who went on to ‘invent’ Mormonism, was arguably sheer survival skill. And maybe an absurdly non-sensical ‘origins’ story, to rival any of the astonishingly fantastic tales upon which all three major religions of our time stake their claims.
In many ways, Hungarian-born Erik Weisz, whose ‘Harry Houdini‘ stage name topped a string of less known aliases, was ahead of his time in two main ways: he worked really hard to perfect (more)
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Read Also:
* Hallowed Ground
* A Tale of Two Cities
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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
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Slippery & Walkable

The Banana Comic Hour
& a Cabbage Walking Tour

Only bananas to elicit such an immediate, jocose reaction from us. From shape to content, it’s not even a fruit, but a berry that comes with its own signature visual gag: someone slipping on a peel. A soul that hasn’t laughed at a butt being splashed on the floor is yet to be born.
The cabbage, on the other, still odorous side, is about foods not fit for dessert. Dieting, intestinal functions, and the sober, stark Irish and Eastern European cuisines are its realm, and it has thrived for centuries as a tool for parental torture of their crying, spoiled-rot tots.
And yet, for all its sensual pleasures, banana was central to colonial wars, even if slaves and marauders wouldn’t recognize it today: we now favor Cavendish, a seedless, sterile clone. But all is forgiven if that cream pie lives up to its billing.
As for the hardy cabbage, it may be bitter like a prescription, but its color palette is unmatched. Sure, it’s resilient, and it’ll remain fibrous after hours of boiling. It won’t apologize when others veggies wilt, and yet, some would take it for a walk, but we’ll get there before soup.
It may seem in bad taste to talk about food in a week like that. At least insensitive, some would say, to write about edibles and not mention Belgium waffles. But both bananas and cabbages beat any coward massacre, as the one we’re unfortunately forced to endure and grieve.
But what’s better than a hearty meal and a succulent shake? Cooking with compassion will always beat terror, let alone hunger. Rather than war, we’d serve bananas and cabbage to those suffering in Brussels. Here’s to your honor; may this meal lift your spirits.

TROPICAL RACE & THE PEEL SPIEL
The world eats more mangoes, but bananas have a more nuanced if brutal history: the rampage of Europeans and Americans to ransack Latin American nations, and the few politically-charged, and blatantly racist expressions to match: monkey business, banana republic, etc. And never forget those excessive plantains.
Its popularity growing, bananas may have climate change as a formidable adversary, and all sorts of fungi remain a constant threat. Some fear extinction, but while that doesn’t happen, we’re surely the big banana here, so don’t ever call us Berry.
Celebrity came with Andy Warhol, public demand brought it to Iceland, but monkeys were always the ones to better peel a banana. By the way, (more)
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Read Also:
* Fostering Clones
* The Whole Spiel

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Unanswerable Prayers

Between Prediction & Petition,
We Beg to Differ With Our Lot

Someone once said that faith was created so man could argue with fate. Or god. Or whatever the hell we weren’t pleased about. A last ditch effort, our first and last resort against reality, as we can’t change the outcome, and evidence usually points the other way.
David Bowie’s death was hard to fathom? There’s a petition for his ‘return.’ Falling oil prices? That’s because 2016 started on a Friday, says a Medieval prediction. A woman bore a child while still a virgin? After 2000 years, many still care enough to even vouch for that.
We simply can’t allow the thought that things may happen at random. Unable to accept that everything around us out-scales us by physical distance and impossibility of time, we choose not to ever be ready to hand over our self-appointed role of comptroller of the universe.
Which, as most things, remains as oblivious to our existence as a cat is to frantic calls to come back at once. We’ll scream, and curse, and swear we’ll move mountains if necessary. But the cosmic enigma, and that little ball of fur, won’t even give us the benefit of a glance.
So we create our temples, and churches, and rituals, and commandments. So to make sure that we won’t be forgotten. And our deeds on this planet will last. And our presence will be memorable. We’ll do that even knowing full well that our ashes will be scattered.

VENETIAN FORETELLING
That’s what we do; we’re convinced that if we tell a story enough times, it’ll become part of the historical record. Science may have amassed crushing evidence against it, but we’ll still recount our tales as if there’s a purpose to it all. We’ll still do it, bless our bleeding hearts.
The Zibaldone da Canal, a compendium of relevant issues to 14th century merchants, such as Arithmetics, spices, weights and (more)
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* Medieval Crafts
* Medieval News
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Present Time

Flexing Your Exquisite
Skills For Being a Gifter

It’s finally here (and you know you want it): our Peculiar Gift List. But why, you ask, another list of presents for other people, (instead of the ever more fulfilling one of things given to you)? Hasn’t the insanity of being nice run its course that time when all you’ve got was a lousy pair of socks and a 3-VHS package?
We’ll get back to you, you Grinch, but this year’s selections got you covered. Jesus Freak uncle? Check. Crazy nice aunt? Check. Serial killer trinkets? You’ve got it. Sure, you won’t please everyone, but they did give you the finger then, right? At least you’re not poisoning them or something. Just proceed with caution.
For that was that time when the little girl next door gifted you with her oh so cute drawing, and you got caught cold-sweating bullets. Her precocious rendition of your backyard, which impressed everyone, scared your shitless. That evil glint in her eye was a message.
As if saying, I saw you dragging that body out of your back door, the other night, and you thought no one was watching. Well, I was. That warning was all you’ve got, but who knows? What if this time she’s coming for a payback? Better be prepared. Hence having a handy list.
Dying people have their buckets, but yours is for protection. Just when they come for the killing, you stun them with a nicely wrapped memento. It’s the thought that counts, remember? Or the message. But just in case, don’t turn your back on her. And calm yourself down already.
Above all, it’s a list custom-made for the regifter at heart in you. As long as you’re judicious redistributing the goods, you’ll be fine. Oh, and don’t forget the scorpion vodka, the snake rum, and the 5-hour Darth Vader Yule Log playing on TV to set the mood. Go ahead, be merry.

FOR THE NICEST CAT LADY YOU KNOW
She’s spent the whole year forwarding you all sorts of links about silly, intriguing, and slightly disturbed cats. You even thought about a fitting revenge, but in the end, couldn’t be mean to your sweet aunt. Result: a bottle of cat forehead-scented Fluffy Fragrance Fabric Water.
She’ll love it. It says how much you care about her, and how nice would be for her to drown on the scent of her own multiple kittens. Who, of course, won’t care less. You know, cats. Still, you’ll impress the party. Or get all sorts of weird stares. Congrats.

HANDLE THE ‘JESUS MILITIA’ SUBSCRIBER
Family gatherings are always tricky, but the table clears ever so quickly when Uncle Bob starts talking Fox News politics. There’s always one point when you’re left on your own to defend lesbians, gun control, legal abortion, and Obama. But this time, you’ll win.
Give him the ‘Dancing With Jesus‘ DVD, and watch his face light up like the gun-themed Christmas tree you know he’s spent hours putting together at his place. Keep a straight face and you’ll see him (more)
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Read Also:
* Last-Minute Gift
* The Most Wonderful Time
* Holiday Fare
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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
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Silly Males

Gary Drinks Gas, Georgio Loves
Rugs, But Huug, He Just Laughs

Pardon our Sanskrit, but here’s another stream of WTF stories. Our files are always bursting with these little gems of human drama we often know not how to dispose of them, and easily grow attached to what they’re about. So let us skip the obvious, the cheap shots and the mean spirited, lest not be us, someday, the object of similarly deflating jeer.
One thing is for sure: we’ve never heard of a 12-step program for gasoline drinkers, a habit made even more lethal if one smokes. Then again, the nefarious Cigarette Man of X-Files fame, is actually a devout waterskiing champ. Who knew? If you like to be stepped on, why not bring your own, favorite rug to help others do the job? Just don’t laugh at that Dutch man: he can’t help it if the joke’s on him.
Perhaps it’s Fall’s arrival, which always catches us off-guard, or the foolishness of pondering about water in another planet. Both concepts are as difficult for us to grasp as climate change: we know both are facts of life, and yet we’re not ready to book a trip to Mars, nor are we prepared to say anything inspiring about winter around the corner.
THE HUMAN LIGHTER
We hear that some people drink too much. That’s a club we got expelled out a long time ago, and are still sore about. Not in our wildest (more)
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Read Also:
* Red Shift

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The Letter Carrier

Bukowski, the Skid
Row Hero Who Did Try

Charles Bukowski would’ve been 95 today. But it’s doubtful he’d have like it. In fact, the writer who reluctantly embodied the outsider, hardly ever noticed by the literati world, spent his life as if he didn’t give a damn about much. But he actually did.
‘I have met more men in jail with style than men out of jail,’ wrote the on and off postal worker and regular menial job specialist, who had bouts with the FBI and the draft board, and developed a not quite accurate reputation as a drinker.
Heinrich Karl, who was born in Germany and moved to the U.S. in 1923, could’ve fooled anyone as just another destitute drunk, who didn’t belong anywhere or cared about having a career. On the outside, he seemed content with a bottle of cheap wine and a whore or two.
But despite his epitaph – Don’t Try, in a reference to advice he once gave to young writers – and fortunately to us, he did care enough to create a vigorous body of work, existential, visceral and deeply American, just as one of his heroes Henry Miller had done.
50 years ago this Aug. 22, Miller wrote Bukowski, ‘I hope you’re not drinking yourself to death,’ echoing concerns shared by his handful of friends and former lovers. He needn’t to worry that much: Bukowski died of Leukemia in 1994. He’d been sober for several years.

But there’s no misreading about his characters, a sore collection of cynical barflies, dirty hotel room dwellers, despised by anyone who loved them. Consumed by self-loath, they longed for (more)
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Read Also:
* Medieval Crafts

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The Other Fourth

The Amendment That Ascertains
Power to This Independence Day

Dispensing all pomp and circumstance, national birthdays have a way of turning into numbing occasions for grandstanding patriotism and overindulgent gluttony. It’s no different in the U.S., even as Independence Day marks a moment of rebellion and self-sacrifice.
That being settled, flags and parades are alright, but it can’t hurt to focus a bit on the constitutional side of that storied statement signed by the 13 colonies, which Congress adopted 237 years ago today, and whether it still holds sway as the highest law of the land.
As such, after almost two and half centuries, it’s held up pretty well. As the nation went through its growing pains, it managed to extend the original liberal slant of its founding documents, even as it amended them, while also adding some truly lofty goals as far as individual rights are concerned.
The paradox about those high standards is that they’ve made the U.S. Constitution both an example of steely idealism committed to a set of amendments, and also a pragmatic tool, vulnerable to be waged against the very principles it vows to defend. Take 2013, for instance.
Despite having elected its first African-American as President, and enjoyed a full century of world economic and military domination, without having to steal land or do away with its institutions, the past few decades have presented serious challenges to its tradition of constitutionality and the rule of the law.
It brings no joy to mention this today, but after two long, unjust wars, thousands of American and foreign lives lost, billions of dollars wasted into the buildup of a scary military complex, the U.S. is more than ever perceived globally as a bully, with no respect to its own legal precepts. How did it come to this?

(BOUNCED) CHECKS & IMBALANCES
The framers of the Constitution ‘did not want to rely on the promises of good motivations or good intents from the government,’ says Professor of Law Jonathan Turley in an interview to John Cusack. ‘They created a system where no branch had enough authority to govern alone, a system of shared and balanced powers.’
Turley blasts efforts by President Obama and his administration to prevent the prosecution of CIA operatives accused of torture during the Bush era as a flagrant infringement of international law. ‘Soon after 9/11, government officials started to talk about how the Constitution is making us weaker, how we can’t function by giving people due process.’
The administration’s most recent self-inflicted black eye has been caused, of course, by revelations that the NSA has been spying on Americans and even foreign dignitaries for years. But as it happened with rumors of a Continue reading

Texting George Kaplan


Highly Successful Habits
of Purely Made Up People

Most of us spend a lifetime struggling to be successful in at least one thing. The writer of this post, for example, after failing in almost everything he’s tried his clumsy hand at, has settled his sights on the promising world of accomplishments only a few dare to pursue.
The last we heard, he’s not doing too well. Apparently, turning off the light switch and landing on a bed before the room goes completely dark has its hazards. It seemed so simple, he told us, when Muhammad Ali revealed to a reporter that it was one of his nightly rituals.
As we talk, our humble scrivener still has at least a few hundred nights to get it done, before every bone of his body is fractured. We’ll keep you posted on that one. Now, where were we? Oh, that’s right, about lifetime achievements, or the lack of them. 
There are those who seem perfectly suited at imprinting their legacy on history books. Others go beyond that, and do it more than once. But none beats the kind of person that, besides all that, also manages to not exist at all. In fact, history records several of these characters.
Take George P. Burdell, for example, after whom the Georgia Institute of Technology named its Student Center after. According to the record, Burdell not just graduated from Georgia Tech, but flew 12 missions over Europe during World War II, served on MAD magazine’s Board of Directors for a dozen years, and in 2001 was almost named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year after garnering 57 percent of online votes. Not even Mozart worked this hard.
Despite his expected old age, he’s kept up with the new world and in touch with his over 4,000 Facebook “friends.” The only thing is, he doesn’t exist. Much less distinctive-named Ed Smith created him in 1927 by enrolling them both for a laugh at Georgia Tech. With Smith’s behind the scenes help, Burdell’s life took off on its own and thrived, as he become one of the institute’s most distinguished legends.

FAKE ARTISTS & SKITTISH CELEBRITIES
There’s also Nat Tate, a fictional artist whose life existed only in the imagination of Scottish novelist William Boyd. All it took him was to publish a book on Tate in 1998 as a biography and keep a straight face. His hoax got some mileage from friends Gore Vidal and David Bowie, all in the joke.
The gullible art intelligentsia of the time adopted and praised the unknown “artist,” until Boyd got tired of it Continue reading

Ailurophile, Caturally

Cats & Their Subtle Ways
of Taking Over Our World

The Internet may be the realm of cats. But Japan has been their unofficial land for 15 centuries. Out of its over 6,800 islands, 11 are felines-only places. There, as here or everywhere, an endless stream of news about cats seems to be always pouring. Our duty is to report them. Hey, it’s their world; we just work here.
For sure, they’ve been around way before catching rides on sixth century Chinese boats. And before Egypt and Tibet and New York City threaten to suit us for misrepresentation, they’ve occupied every pore of society, from houses to cafes, from offices to retirement homes, and the very social mores of our age.
The opening of Life of Cats, a two-part show of the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection‘s of cat woodblock prints by Edo-period artists at New York’s Japan Society, presents the perfect opportunity to jump at such an omnipresent, furry, and ever so gracious, subject. The heavy-handed commentary is ours, of course.
The exhibit of almost 200 prints, some popular, others very rare, covers the influential 17th-through-18th centuries period, through works by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Utagawa Yoshiiku, and many others, depicting cats in a variety of settings and situations, both playful and thought provoking.

Divided in five sections – Cats and People, as People, and versus People, Transformed, and at Play – the selections, from the most extensive collection of ukiyo-e prints in the world, offer a journey through pre-industrial and pre-urban Japan through the mid 1800s and beyond. It’s complemented with modern artwork.
In surprising, evocative scenery, the felines are shown as companions, stand-ins for humans, threatening, and just plain child-friendly playful. The technique allows to exquisite detailing and implied hidden contexts, expertly told as stories by the shows’s curator, and Japan Society Gallery’s director, Miwako Tezuka.

HOME & OFFICE PET COMFORT
Back to contemporary times, Japan’s arguably where the cat cafes first sprouted, but it’s in no way the sole sanctuary 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

Hallow Talk

Dolls, Dummies & Porcelain Gore: the
Unsinkable Allure of the Talking Dead

Most people would never admit it, but there are no two ways about it: we like Halloween because it’s creepy. We like the gore associated with it, the scary stuff, and the lure of death, breathing coldly upon our neck. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.
What’s curious in American culture, however, is that even talking about death and the departed and what happens to decaying bodies and what we’re supposed to tell our child about their deceased relatives remains taboo for the whole year, except on October 31.
We use the children’s still unguarded approach to the world as a perfect Trojan horse of an excuse for peeking into the depths of our dark corners, where fears reign supreme, and the sun never shines. And tell everyone that it’s all for their own good.
But heaven forbid if they’re to inquiry about the finality of death, or the possibility – fiercely denied by billions but ever and again confirmed by all the evidence anyone can come up with – that this is it, there’s nothing beyond the Big Sleep, and one’d better making it count while it lasts.
We entrust the wee ones with the task of facing the most terrifying recesses of our psyche, while at the same time disenfranchising them from developing a critical mind about, say, coma, or rigor mortis, embalming, or cremation, and all fun things in between. No wonder they place so much currency on material goods these days.
Whether there’s a point in this cheap thrill of vicariously exposing children to dread towards the unknown, which we all share throughout life, just so they get use to feeling frightened, is truly up to discussion.
For what we, grownups, get out of Halloween is so rewarding to that nook within us which enjoys being spooked that all damage it may inflict on tender minds seems negligible. After all, we tell ourselves, soon enough, they’ll have to handle all of that on their own.
We’d have no problem assuming whole heartedly that we love Halloween. Even as memories of spending those hot South American days of our youth at cemeteries, visiting families and friends who went before, are not our particularly favorite recollections.
We still treasure that we did the time, and remember the smells of fresh flowers and sweat, mixed with a faint scent of recently dug up graves still encrusted deep in our brains. Not quite like the Mexicans, who actually party and camp at the gravesite on the Dia de los Muertos, but still a day to honor all souls, specially the finados.
So we could now proceed to tell rehashed tales about ghosts, goblins, strange apparitions and odd Jack O’Lanterns, stories about unexplained occurrences supposedly told to trustworthy people, rumors from the friend of a friend who’s heard an eerie chime echoing somewhere, perhaps even a dead celebrity sighting or two. But we’d rather not.
As usual, we’ll divert, digress, er, depart from that general theme and find our own niche to mark the date. We’ll focus, (more)
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Read Also:
* The Flours of Evil
* All Hallows Eve
* Hallow Ground

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

The Aitch-Old File

Human Horns, a Hell of a Hornets’
Nest & the Holmdel Horn Antenna

With a letter as its leitmotif, there’s no telling where this post may lead us. Some people growing horns for years? Check. A hornet’s nest built around a wooden head? Check. We just weren’t expecting to learn about the cosmic microwave background radiation.
Or the a raging argument over how to pronounce H in the English language. But how to get to new places if we only tell old stories? Above all, here’s another post for librarians and archivists to hate; how are they supposed to file it under? Down the hatch?
But let’s get to this business of hating the haitch, as pronounced with the H of hot temper, instead of the fluidity of an amicable turn of the tongue, as The Guardian’s David McKie would ardently prefer it. McKie himself has admitted, though, that the muscular way may have the winning hand.
Apparently, even the ‘haitchers,’ he notes, pronounce the letter as an Aitch when it sits between two indifferent words, but it’s doubtful that anyone is willing to concede doing so in the circumstance. Still, the last word should be granted to the British writer, if only for caring enough.
After all, who’d have the elegance of thinking about a letter, as almost invisible as the H, as one more ‘apt for trouble in nightclubs and service in Iraq?’ And if the debate seems too byzantine, you may take it to publisher Effinghan Wilson who, in 1959 wrote a whole little book about letter.
You wouldn’t find a Wikipedia reference about it, though. Suffice to mention that, however his kin may feel about that, as the, what else, Hornet noted on his 1868 obituary, his firm was ‘known throughout the world as one of the foremost houses in the publishing trade.’

ONE FLEW OVER THE HORNET’S NEST
When white Anglo-Saxon protestants use the self-celebratory acronym to define their disappearing species, the notion that a powerful insect, with a venon and a wing-battered soundtrack to match it, can be even remotely compared to them is at best, laughable, and at worst, deeply insulting. To the bugs, of course.
Wasps, after all, are colorful, diverse, independent, and capable of great beauty. Well, if you think about the pain that both groups can inflict, perhaps. But the comparison should stop even before that annoyingly preppy brand of self-serving individualists walk into the sunset. Not the bugs, of course.
Another thing hornets are masters, and Wasps are not, is the art of papermaking, from the pulp made of pure, selected pieces of wood fiber, collected from an array of sources in your backyard, if you have one, all the way to the exquisite labyrinthine contraptions that served as their dwelling for the warm months.
The example above, for all the pretty freakish aspects to it, perfectly capable of scaring the bejeezus out of the most intrepid garden spider, 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

Late Supper

A Food Fight We
Are Born to Lose

There are many incomprehensible and cruel things about capital punishment. Perhaps no one is more ironic than the last meal, offered to the death-chamber bound. Then again, depending on the circumstances, nothing tops grabbing a bite at a crucial moment.
There are memorable meals and those that people gather from a dumpster. There’s the soldier’s ration, and the Bring Your Own Food kind of dinner. Many have had enough and are now morbidly obese, and then there are the millions who simply won’t eat anything tonight.
To have and to have not is the great divide that sets apart the thoroughly satiated from the miserably famished, regardless their personal merit or scale of necessity. In the end, hunger is not equal to food shortage, but consistently failing to eat can doom us all equally.
Between the tasty top, where superstar chefs and molecular cuisines pamper the palate of the powerful, and the bleak bottom where the next meal is less certain than death by starvation, swims the still majority of humans to whom food time equals to conviviality and fun.
Unrelatedly, William Duffy had a valid point about a soldier’s ration, on his book Sugar Blues: both Alexander armies and the Vietcong had similar sweet-free diets. For him, that could help explain the mighty of the ancient Greek and the resourcefulness of the ragtag, tunnel-dweller troops that defeated the world’s most powerful military forces of their times.
Going back to the state’s dreadful habit of sending citizens to oblivion with a full stomach, someone with a twisted sense of parallels may say that a soldier’s meal may be also his last. Sadly, that was the case for many a condensed-milk addicted Green Beret who in 1960s never made it back home from the jungles of Southeast Asia.

NO SECONDS & NO DOGGIE BAGS
As it turns out, even at the last supper, inmates are not usually known for exercising a philosophical restrain and order frugally what will hardly stay in their systems for long. Most will order what’s the best on the menu, even though that coming from a jail’s cafeteria, is setting the bar not too high anyway.
Ted Bundy ordered the steak; Timothy McVeigh stuffed himself with ice-cream. John Wayne Gacy had chicken, shrimp and strawberries, while less-well-known Victor Feguer was the only one not too have too much of an appetite, in which we can all relate in some way: he had a Continue reading

Man Made

We Build Automata So to
Mend Our Broken Dreams

‘We’re not computers, Sebastian, we’re physical,’ says Replicant Roy Batty to the brilliant but emotionally stunted genetic designer J.F., in Blade Runner, after he asked Roy and Priss to ‘do something.’
We’ve been asking these quasi-beings that we create to ever so closely resemble our own likeness, to do things for us since at least the 300s BCE, when mathematician Archytas built his steam powered dove.
From that first artificial bird to today’s wonders of modern animatronics on the screen, and Japanese robots all around, we’ve built a hefty utopian timeline of artificial bodies, made of assorted materials or other body parts. No wonder, they also litter the stuff of our nightmares.
Designed to obey, first, then to go where no human could possibly survived, as Philip K. Dick envisioned, we seemed to have this immemorial angst of beating god at his own game and develop a more faithful companion than our own kind, only to get frustrated, if they’d grow too loyal, or killed, if they’d turn on us.
Fictionally, of course. Even though we should’ve known better by now, we still pursue a variety of traditions of supernatural beings doing things for us or to us, creating and destroying our world at will, acting just like summarized versions of the supreme invisible deity billions believe controls our every move on this planet.
From the Golem to Godzilla, from Adam to Frankenstein, we’re transfixed by the thought of being capable of creating or even conceiving another animated body, made of mud or plastic, that could sooth our desperate loneliness in a vast, totally indifferent universe.
It could as well be that we’re just bored, or no longer can stand any of the other 6,999,999,999 bodies cramped and imprisoned in this tiny rock, swirling steadily but completely out of our control, and dream of Continue reading

The Flours of Evil

Edible Treats for
Phony Cannibals

As fake blood flows, and bogus gore parades, there’s a distinct sense of triumph for New Yorkers this Halloween: Hurricane Sandy may’ve almost drowned this city by harbor and sea, but not this time. Many succumbed by water and fire; but the survivors are partying tonight.
Thus those tasty delights that grace this post, concocted by sick but talented minds, with a flair for the showy and a wink of the eye. Never so many scary depictions, nearly lifelike on their precision and playfulness, were so sweet to the palate and pleasing to the view.
That is, if you have a strong stomach and a sense of humor. For that’s what Hallowmuertos could be all about: a combo of fear, respect and games, to take the edge off of life’s grievances and engage in something that Nietzsche said, is ‘deeper still than grief can be’: joy.
Thus Natalie Sideserf baked a Willie Nelson cake as the old bard of pot and country celebrates his 80th birthday this year, while Annabel de Vetten did the sweet lifesize version of beloved fictional serial killer, Dexter Morgan, just as the series was wounding down, all wrapped in cling-film and ready to be sliced open.
Within the same ballpark, there was The Helpers, who baked that lovely brunette head as they launched the movie of the same name, and earlier in the year, Wesker & Son of London, who put up a whole human meat market out of flour and icing, a lookalike butcher shop to mark the launch of Resident Evil 6.

The gloomy (and white chocolate) Dead Babies are a courtesy of the Conjurer’s Kitchen, which also modeled the wax anatomic head, complete with veins and naked eyes. Probably not so edible, it’s still a lesson any forensics buff would appreciate to take. Talking about eyes, don’t miss the Japanese squishy eyeballs, a sophisticate cocktail garnish.
The holiday table with the half torso of the blond lady is a marzipan sculpture by artist Helga Petrau-Heinzel, complete with sides of sweet hearts and viscera, while LifeForm’s Gangrenous Feet is for sale at Continue reading

Seeing Through

New Invisibility Cloaks May
Hide More Than Cats & Events

If you roam this world, it’s very likely that there’s been a time when you wished you could’ve just vanished from the face of Earth. Maybe you owe money, did something despicable, or can’t possibly put up with what the Tea Party is doing with the American democracy.
There’s no shortage of reasons for getting away from it all. And while art and human imagination have contributed along the centuries to fulfill our longing for being physically oblivious to reality, there’s now a new powerful ally fast ushering us towards the void: science.
Several developments in the technology of bending light waves have brought us a bit closer, if not to the full monty of extreme discretion, at least to abscond a variety of subjects, that just a few years ago was possible only in movies and computer science.
From metamaterials, which interact with light and can been printed in large sheets, to a cylinder that doesn’t reflect microwaves, to even a combo of mirrors, lenses or tanks of water, cloaking devices seem to be the new holy grail to some scientists. Even if they have to make a cat disappear, like they did in Singapore.
By now, it’s easy to think that it may be all about smoke and mirrors, for some developments are truly fantastic. Such as an invisibility ‘time cloak,’ which can actually hide entire events by manipulating the speed of light in optical fibers. If it sounds heady, that’s because such a device is perfectly capable of blowing our minds.
In fact, when it comes to the quest for invisibility, it’s not just minds that are bound to be smashed. Think about how much the defense industry is investing in this research to grasp some pretty harry scenarios. And there’s also the practical side of being invisible, a prospect not to be rose-colored about.

SCI-FI & DREAMS OF SILVER SCREEN 
Fantastic literature and movies, of course, have been teasing us for years about the prospect of vanishing into thin air, and talking about Harry, it was one of that boy wizard’s early films that got a whole new generation on track to be mesmerized by it. Never mind the creepiness factor of lurking undetected in somebody’s room.
Cinema has contributed a huge chunk to our fascination, and the 1933 James Whale’s feature, The Invisible Man, may have laid down the rules Continue reading

Album Art

When Covers Rocked
As Hard as the Music

There has been many a requiem for the vinyl album. After a post-war apogee of the thick 78s, the 33 and 1/3r.p.m. record reigned supreme for 30 years. But its demise was swift, vanquished by the CD, which like replicants of the era, wasn’t built to last.
During its glory, though, it was a perfect conduit for the music that engraved hearts and minds of three generations. While the sound outlast formats, the albums’ art covers were the signposts pointing to the narrative of changes that their songs were about.
The names of the artists who created the jackets and sleeves of the soundtracks of the 1950s, 60s and beyond never became nearly as familiar as the superstars who came to dominate the age. Nevertheless, some of the work has arguably surpassed the content they were supposed to illustrate and complement.
Peter Blake, Alan Aldridge, Roger Dean, H.R. Giger, the recently deceased Storm Thorgerson, along with already established artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Crumb, were some of the outstanding creators of seminal works of contemporary art, for the packaging of pop hits they were designed for. That art, unfortunately, is no longer around.
Elvis, Beatles and Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and Nirvana, Yes and Led Zeppelin, along with some notable jazz labels such as the Blue Note, have all benefited from the explosion of the art of album cover, and some of the era’s greatest hits are forever linked with the images that graced their albums. Some were controversial, but most were deeply inspiring.

END OF THE STANDALONE RECORD
Their downfall may have started with that shortest-lived of the formats, the Compact Disc, which arguably cut down on the space for art on the cover. When it went the way of the cassette tape, which it’s also buried, Continue reading

Safe Arbor Clauses

Three About Trees &
a 5,000 Year Old Truck

Buddha sat under one. Sumerians have crossed oceans on ships built with them. Many species disappeared, or exist only in old depictions, paintings predating the modern era. Yet defying all odds, trees still grace our world, and stun us with their girth, height, and vigor.
That’s why a man in India has planted whole forests of them, and the Brazilians plan to count those in the Amazon. Now, as the world’s biggest trees continue to grow, according to botanists, an editor at NOVA begs new architects: please, stop placing them in skyscrapers.
In New York City, where the latter thrive, though, trees are subjected to more mundane afflictions of street life, such as dog pee, rusted chains, and cigarette butts. That’s why the Treedom Project is halfway through a quest, which ends May 26, to ‘liberate them’ from such indignities.
But without being the cradle of ancient trees, or having a forest to call its own – never mind the woody wilderness of upstate New York – the city is still home of one of the gems of modern urban green architecture: Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s Central Park.
Carved and carefully planted at the heart of the city, it’s a wonder that neither its 800 acres plus nor its incredible variety of species haven’t felt to the axes of powerful real estate moguls. If the park’s been the setting of a few bloody crimes, it’s also been the very reason many a resident haven’t yet lost his or her mind.
Still, for all their majestic and soothing presence in Manhattan, no Central Park tree comes close in age to Methuselah, a fittingly-named truck which, by some accounts, is the world’s oldest. The bristlecone is said to be 4,844 years old, a thousand years older than any other on Earth, and it’s been living all this time at a pine forest in California.
The good news, at least if you’re a tree, is that many of the big species are still growing, just like what you’d wish your mind were doing right now. A Humboldt State University research team found that 3,200-year old giant sequoias, for instance, actually grow faster later in life than in their ‘teenage’ years, when all they’ve got is a few hundred summers imprinted on their rings.
One of nature’s best recordkeepers, trees can report back to us our entire walk on this planet, better that we ever could. They may not Continue reading

Spinning World

Fear of Losing the Internet, Your
Religion & the Best Things in Life

There are times when we fancy ourselves as a sort of keepers of the world. We pretend that bad things skip a beat under our watch, or look the other way. It may be all silly, but lately we’re only able to function under the illusion that things won’t turn that mad when we’re around.
Take the past weeks when we were off, for instance. You may argue, things unravel, as they wont to do, regardless of who’s at the helm. But eyeballs in a trash bin? An anti-atheist postal bias? An entire continent severed from the Internet by a pair of scissors? There’s more.
Guess what item is the current hottest U.S. export? But we’ll let you crave about this one for a bit, while we litter your Friday with a bunch of weird news, and a few signposts along the way first. For it wouldn’t be fair, otherwise. After all, we’re not talking about nuke threats from a diminutive Asian dictator here.
In fact, we’re the ones craving about these odd splinters we eagerly collect from the daily grind. As we said before, our files are stuffed with them, begging to be let loose. The only ground rules we’d consider would be to group them with like-minded items, under the general rubric of a world that’s lost its lid.
Which brings us back to the undercurrent theme of this fair Spring day: who can keep up with so much musings and rantings about ‘what I think,’ or ‘what I’d do,’ or how many ways one could count to appreciate the wonder of being themselves. But we digress. The point is to offer you a ride, a spin if you would, and see what still stands, when all is said and done.

THE NET, ITS TUBES & THE DIVING CUTTERS
The biggest, albeit hardly noticed, Internet attack ever recorded happened just the other week, to dismay of those who, by now, take online access for granted. As it turns out, this megabillion bytes digital highway has so many vulnerabilities to make us all fear for its continuous operation, if such attacks intensify.
And they will, we’re told. But we won’t bore you with the nerd details you probably already know, other than saying that your computer was probably made part of it, as a zombie, along with its printer and, hey, even your toaster, for that matter. What we should be asking, though, is why bother?
That’s because three men caught off the coast of Alexandria proved that disrupting the Internet is way simpler than that, at least in theory (and if you happen to be a diver, of course). They were attempting to cut through the SEA-ME-WE 4 undersea cable. Talking about the tubes of the Internet, well, this is it.
Disabling such a prosaic piece of hardware would be disastrous for millions of people in Asia and Europe. It’d immediately cut off the Internet in France, Italy, north Africa, the middle east and Malaysia. Cables like this run all over the world, making sure you get your porn at the click of a bottom.
The latest digital attack, by a shady organization called CyberBunker, has clogged up a staggering 300 gigabits per second of the Internet, so the threat of disruption by hacking is still pretty scary. If it were directed at a major utility, or a nuclear defense system, for example, it’d be downright nightmarish.
But many other nameless thugs may lack the technical expertise to bring the world online to its knees. So the next best thing may be Continue reading

Valentine Way

When the Affair Is Over &
the Blues Hurt Your Heart

It’d seem virtually impossible to add yet another cliche to a day so full of them as Valentine’s. But we think we can still squeeze an extra one in. For a selected group of researchers seems to agree that heartbreak causes physical symptoms in those going through it.
We hate to say it, but we told you so, haven’t we? Doctors in New York, Michigan, and Beverly Hills believe that the body responds to the emotional pain of a breakup just like it would to any other kind of stress, and it may even enlarge your heart.
For Montefiore’s Director of Psychology Simon Rego, the reaction it’s a built-in defense mechanism that ‘keeps us alive.’ It’s ‘more than just a metaphorical feeling of pain,’ says University of Michigan Professor Ethan Kross, in what psychiatrist and author Carole Lieberman characterizes it as a particularly vulnerable time to physical illness.

Even the prestigious Mayo Clinic got into what’s known as ‘broken-heart syndrome,’ a condition in which the person experiences chest pains and firmly believes it’s a heart attack. That’s because research showed that the heart temporarily enlarges in response to the surge of stress hormones caused by the end of the affair.
By now, many of you may be experiencing some kind of heart-racing urge, alright, but just out of the desire to kill us. After all, why would we choose today to (chocolate) rain on everyone’s parade, right? We understand. But think of it as a public service and please don’t think ill of our feeble attempt at bringing you something fresh to such a by-the-numbers day.
Perhaps Dr. Rego can elaborate a bit, specially for those who may feel left out of all the fireworks of roses and rings that makes this a make or break kind of a day. ‘It’s important to remember that life is never constant,’ he says (please don’t cringe just yet). ‘It’s the blessing and the curse of it all,” he told the LATimes.

His pearl of wisdom should appear in small print on the back of all Valentine’s Day cards that millions are exchanging today. ‘We all will experience loss in our lives. It’s what it means to be human. But as low as we feel, it’s important to remember that things get better,’ and we think we may be having some kind of palpitation now.
Maybe that’s because we know we couldn’t possibly put it any better, without starting melting as a pile of white sugar under a heavy downpour of high fructose corn syrup.
We mean no disrespect to the good old doc, of course, or to any research on the emotional response to such an often devastating event in our lives as a breakup, for that matter. As Dr. Kross, who studied the effects of physical and emotional pain, says, ‘social rejection may actually have a bodily component to it.’
Let’s not go any further with the derogatory tinge for now. As many in history, we’ve tried and tried our hands at the stuff, and may have only managed to cross the part that ‘hurts and causes physical pain.’ So what’s a no-expert-at-love is left to do? try it over, of course. We’re foolish that way. The Valentine way.
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Read Also:
* Buzz Off
* Embraceable Hearts
* Broken Hearts
* Before & After

The Red Chronicles

Mars, As Red As They Come (NASA) Click for Video

Think You Could Move
to Mars? Pack Lightly

A curious thing happened while we were mourning the Space Shuttles’ demise, and lack of a recognizable project to follow it up: NASA got busy with Mars. Thus, even if such news are breaking at least 54.6 million kilometers away, and often farther than that, we take it.
Last time we checked it, there were two rovers on the surface, and a satellite orbiting the planet named after the Roman god of war. And as we’re already researching ways of sending humans for a permanent visit up there, no one has mentioned anything about armies to follow.
It belongs to Mars, for example, the most spectacular event connected to space exploration in recent memory: last August’s landing on the planet of one of those rovers, Curiosity, through an ingenious and complex succession of stages. Or so we were told, since there’s no real-time footage of it.
But even the animation NASA prepared detailing the landing beat by a large margin the next-best thing, the docking of privately-built Dragon capsule on the International Space Station last October. While that was the promising opening salvo of a new era of commercial cargo trips, Curiosity’s pictures are way hotter.
This week, it’s supposed to crack its first Martian rock open, and astrophysicists and scientists of all stripes are beside themselves about it. In the meantime, elsewhere in the traffic-free red surface, the other Continue reading

New Critters on the Block

Another Blue Tarantula &
a Spider That Builds a Decoy

It’s good that we have no plans of spending time at the tabletop mountains of Brazil anytime soon. Although we hear nice things about the place, there’s one particular local beauty we wouldn’t like crossing paths with over there: the newly-discovered Sazima’s tarantula.
It’s also a great asset to be of a certain stature (physical, not exactly moral); we tend to tower over spiders. But if you were the size of, say, a fly, caution would be in order: an also newly-found arachnid builds a much bigger ‘spider’, to lure and scare the bejesus out of small critters.
They’re both residents of South America’s Amazon and are truly fascinating for the way they look or go about their business of, well, eating small bugs and stuff. Think about that the next time someone talks about hiking in the jungle, and as if spring has sprung, lightly teases you about joining them.
Be strong and resist, always. In case you’re wondering too, that’s how we spend most of our Saturdays: finding new ways to terrorize our senses. In the process, as it’s pathologically common with fear, we learn a great deal about entomology, the Rainforest, wonders of travel and the natural world.
In reality, as many an enologist don’t actually drink, knowledge not always require one to touch the stuff. We’ve had quite a few fascinating conversations about bugs with people who can’t stand having one around. In some cases, clinical detachment in no way prevents anyone from getting intimate with a subject.
Before going any further, though, let’s be clear that we would hardly Continue reading

Sleigh of News

The Pope’s Hate Message, a Misnamed
Disease, & Other Christmas Oddities

It’s a season of joy, of much tra-la-la and all that. But it’s also a time prone to burst into disconcerting news, and we’re not talking about thousands of armed conflicts around the world that don’t even bother celebrating it and taking a break from killing people.
Just like many a regular business, war doesn’t close its doors during Christmas. Neither hate goes on holiday, judging by the pope’s annual message, rallying troops against gay marriage. In other news, though, science has finally diagnosed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Deer, oh dear.
Not to play a heavy hand here, but religion is often a factor at the trigger-happy start of any conflict, but retreats to irrelevance when it comes to demanding it to stop. No wonder a recent survey found out that nonbelievers now form the world’s ‘third-largest religion,’ which is startling oxymoron to begin with.
Somehow, though, people still care, at least enough to steal baby jesuses from nativity scenes all across America. Apparently, there’s an odd increase in reported robberies in 2012, compared to previous years. Religious fervor? Pranksters at play? We can’t say, or pretend, that we care one way or another.
But, as we said before, it is a time for reprieve, which is evidenced in the increase in charity donations, widespread acts of goodwill and a general feeling that yes, ’tis the season. And the Christmas Disease alluded to above, a rare type of hemophilia, is not even named after it, but by Stephen Christmas, a U.K. AIDS activist who died in 1993.

NO ALTAR BOY
That’s why it’s so baffling that the spiritual leader of 2.2 billion people in the world has chosen exactly this time to reach out to other religious chiefs in what can only be called a crusade against homosexuals. According to Benedict XVI, there’s a threat to the family every time a same-sex couple pledges each other eternal love.
Don’t blame us to bring this up, but when Pope John XXIII, for Continue reading

Back to the End

Picking Up Right
Where We Left Off

You’re probably feeling very good about yourself right now. After all, you’ve proved them all wrong, and you’re still alive and kicking, despite all dire predictions about the world coming to a final blast today. Well, our word to you would be caution; you’re not out of the woods yet.
Since you’ve probably read about what was supposed to have happened today, the Mayan calendar and what not, we’ll spare you from going over that venue again. Instead, let’s make sure you know what you haven’t yet, unfortunately, ducked, and, albeit unlikely, can still hit you.
Hey, we’re just counterbalancing the annoying cheerful wave that will undoubtedly grace today’s news. We’re, as you know, funny that way: first we tend to periodically create these completely baseless widespread fears, to which we add a steady diet of bad news, day in and day out, just to make everyone feel like dirt.
Then, when all seems to be about to burst into a planetary bummer, we conveniently stand down, invoking some kind of glitch, or blaming it all on the hyperactive imagination of some nut preaching on the desert somewhere. But we still tell you that you should consider yourself lucky, for what could’ve been.
Needless to say, fortunes are made or broken that way. All over the world, people have given up everything in exchange for the comfort of following someone else’s vision toward the impending doom. In fact, according to Isaac Asimov, an Assyrian clay tablet of circa 2800 BCE was already warning everyone ‘that the world is speedily coming to an end.’
The only reason such gloomy type of predictions have become hard currency may be that we now waste even more time paying attention to them. Or see more reasons to do so, whichever rocks the boat of your next garden-variety cult leader, seeking validation to his or her deranged delusions of grandeur.
As for us, this whole brouhaha never mattered. When the pastor came Continue reading

Old Underwear

Abreast About Bras, Breast
Washers & Victoria’s Knickers

News about ancient female undergarments took our breath away. It’s well established that much of Medieval and Victorian attire had all the makings of portable restrainers, as women were deemed their fathers and husbands’ property. Just like some faiths would still have it.
A set of brassieres, found in a floorboard vault of the 1100s Lengberg Castle, and one of Queen Victoria’s own bottoms, show that such zeal went even deeper. While the bras look sexy, in a poverty-chic kind of way, the huge ‘bloomers’ would make even a clown blush.
Victoria’s secrets, which have been sold in auction, were known to exist, but the elaborate needle-lace design of the bras was a relative surprise. Their format, with distinct cut cups, is unlike that of the antique strips of cloth or leather favored by Greeks and Romans, used mainly to flatten the breasts.
Researchers who are studying the pieces are unsure whether the well preserved linen underpants also found in the vault are female or male. That’s because while men were known for wearing them, women are believed to have acquired the habit much later, around the time when England’s Virgin Queen was crowned, in the early 1800s.
Risking veering off the subject here, but in a loosely related field, it’s interesting how breast washers became relatively popular, just over a century later. Even though they seem inexplicable from the point of view of modern notions of hygiene, Continue reading

Split Ends

A Brush of Fresh Hair or How
Pubic Curls May Save Your Life

Few things resemble more our evolutionary pedigree than body hair. Culturally, having a ‘full head’ of it means being young, beautiful, healthy, even powerful. Until it departs on its own, we spent years combing it, cutting it, shaving it, dying it, and parting it with aplomb.
It’s another story with hair growing elsewhere but on top of our head. A reminder of how fast we went from furry animal to naked ape, we’ve set strict social codes to dealing with ‘excess’ in certain parts of the body. We’ve only got contempt, though, for ear and nose strays.
The inconvenient truth about hair is that it’s easily matted with sexism, racial intolerance, and political and religious oppression. It can get greasy with prejudice, scorched dry with the dust of old traditions, and offensively malodorous, reeking of staled rites and bad blood.
In other cases, the way we look at hair or lack thereof reveals the huge gap between our general perception of what each gender is supposed to be about, and what evolution has determined was the best way to cope with changing climate and environmental conditions. We adapted and changed to survive, but we often still carry the phantom of an obsolete, long discarded psychological association.
Chest hair, for example, long thought to be a symbol of manhood and testosterone dominance, has recently been found to actually be a deterrent for potential female mates. Scientists long knew that women’s preference for hairlessness may have been a way to avoid lice and other tiny mites that would enjoy the comfort of chest hair in unkempt males of yore (read, all males born some 10,000 years ago).
Even though that’s hopefully no longer the case (as hygiene habits have Continue reading

Cowturday

Your Herd Will Message
You When the Time Comes

Perhaps that’s what George Orwell feared the most. Not cellphones and their invasion of your privacy. Not the ubiquity of people doing all sorts of dangerous things while text messaging. No, our money would be on you, as a farmer, receiving a SMS straight from your cows’ vaginas.
That’s right, dear reader, we don’t mean to be crass, but that’s exactly the kind of device Swiss researchers have been working on. And, in case you’re wondering, yes, this is the latest on our thrilling series about bovines, who the last you’ve heard, can make you crazy too.
Today, besides your usual pasture-variety cow attack, we have them drinking beer; stalking and killing an old man who’d thrown water at them (a no-no, apparently), and a group of individuals being openly accused of killing senior citizens in the U.K.
Before we get going, though, credit must be given to our friend Maggie Koerth-Baker, an editor at Boing Boing, who wrote a week-long series Continue reading

That Can’t Be Right

A World Out of Whack in
Four Easy & Weird Stories

Ah, it’s a wonderful world out there. But it may be a matter of perception whose wonders are out there, and how much reality has to be bent to fully appreciate them. After all, as this year’s Ig Noble Award winning Psychology study has so thoroughly proven, ‘Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller.’
If that sounds like nonsense, boy do we have a post for you. From what dads are saying about their kids these days, and that includes those who shouldn’t even be called fathers, to how much arsenic your bowl of rice may be holding, to a completely off the left field study about ugly fonts and car crashes, the list is long.
And it’s all true. Or rather, if this is true, than how much of it you currently have in your life? Better get some, friend; if the world’s going to hell in a handbasket, you may still need to find your own seat. Or you may just want to forget it all and enjoy your football game, but wait, there’s something weird about that too.
It’s likely that from this season on, your favorite sport may no longer be as enjoyable as it used to be. First, research proved that the game itself has been causing brain damage to a lot of still able bodies. Then a dispute within the league, has unleashed onto the fields a platoon of unprepared referees that have so far wreak havoc on the season.
On top of that, you may still not be aware of the NFL’s best-kept secret: Continue reading

My Oh Meow

A Cat Who Would Be Mayor
(& the One Who Already Is)

The biggest political bombshell of last week was, of course, the revelations that a candidate to a major elective position may not be completely er, invested in the majority of those he’d potentially serve. Secretly recorded footage of him showed a previously unknown, and utterly unkind, side of him.
We’re talking of Tuxedo Stan, as you’ve probably guessed it, the candidate to mayor of Halifax, Canada, who turns out to be… a cat. The news about his candidacy may have come as a shock to everyone but to residents of Talkeetna, Alaska, who for the past 15 years, have had a cat named Stubbs as mayor.
Without making too much of the joke, to the point of running it to the ground, and yet, doing exactly that, let’s get the overarching argument about the current failure of our (human) politics out of the way. And since we’re at it, let’s add also the overheated, and deranged, argument that it’s time to do away with our system altogether.
It’s usually at this point that advocates of such overbaked theory jump at the wayward conclusion that no matter what we do, in the end, we’re bound to elect a clown to high office. And supposedly we’d be doing far better just letting the inmates run the asylum. Or, as in these cases, our own pets.
We’ll let it slide how self-fulfilling such a prescription to disaster can be, from the part of those who propose it. It’s quite boring, really, in its predictability, to see how those who, otherwise would be soundly defeated in the polls by even a piece of furniture, would try to up their Continue reading

Friendly Reminders


Regarding a Cat & a Goose
& the Health of Cockroaches

Consider yourself warned. Please use the other door. Dispose of your cigarette buts in the proper receptacles.
Keep your voice down. Step aside for the avian porter. We care about our floor guests. And do not sit next to the Waiting Room feline.

All are welcome. We do not discriminate on the basis of faith, nationality or species.

Enjoy the weekend.

School’s In

The Quirk & the Beauty of
A Vanishing Classroom Trio

As millions of children (reluctantly) return to school this week in the northern hemisphere, many will be familiar with what they’ll find in class: laptops, the smart whiteboard, LED displays. What they probably will have no use for are pencils, erasers and chalks, first grade staples of bygone centuries.
Those who grew up mastering their use may be now more concerned about incontinence and memory loss, but artists still rave about these relics. For them, the smell, taste, and feel of those things are indelibly connected with the wonders (and miseries) of childhood, and should not be missed. But alas, we’ve already seen people declaring their love for the smell of computers.
We consider those, who’re already fully immersed in the high-tech realm of interactive learning, children of privilege, to be sure. They’re still in the minority of school age kids throughout the world, where most would be very lucky if they could have a decent breakfast when they get up in the morning, let alone a class to attend.
Our priorities as a society are indeed screwed up, and deep in slums and miserable places of this Earth, one can still find a HDTV or a multitude of iPhones. But we remain hopeful that at least some of the good aspects of living in the future will eventually trickle down and find their way to the kids.
So back in the printed book-free environment of today’s rich schools, preteens are already masters of the digital world, at easy with complex software, and ready to access our whole civilization at the touch of a key. Still it’s too bad they will do it without having ever smelled graphite or eraser crumbs, or heard that cringing-inducing sound of chalk tracing on a blackboard.
So before we all forget what many have never learned anyway, about pencils, erasers, and chalk, let’s get a primer on some quirky facts Continue reading

Aussie Antihero

Time for Ned Kelly to 
Have His Third Burial

When Australian outlaw Ned Kelly was living his brief and tormented life, 158 or 157 years ago, depending on who you ask, there was probably little doubt about how it all would end. His death by hanging, on three counts of murder, would have been the final act in such a short life of a hapless character.
Not for Kelly, though. His body went through quite a few adventures of its own, as it turns out. First, his bones were moved in 1929, and then exhumed 80 years later, when his DNA was identified. But his skull has been always missing until recently. Now, a self-described witch claims to have it.
By now, much of what we believe we know about this contemporary of American Jesse James, also young and outlawed, is subjected to skepticism for lack of consistent records. In fact, we may never know how much of it is even based on fact, such as the Robin Hood bit, or just pure myth.
But it makes for good copy. News about Kelly have been as hot now as they were during the 1960s, when the potential of iconic antiheroes for selling T-shirts built a few small fortunes. It helped it too that a 1970 movie based on his life, starring Mick Jagger, was a minor hit of the era.
THE IRISH BUSHRANGER
As any middle-schooler can tell you, when the British Empire was deciding what to do with the vast extension of the land ‘down under,’ its most ‘brilliant’ idea was to send to the continental-sized new country a band of convicted criminals. Let loose in the inhospitable territory, those who didn’t die, thrived.
Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly was the son of a first generation Irish con sent by the British to rot way down below the equator, an ‘award’ offered to him and his comrades, as an alternative to death in the northern Continue reading

Get Moving

Cars That Fly, Hover, Fold, & 
Get Powered by Compressed Air

You’ve heard that one before. By now, we were supposed to be living in smart cities, with cars flying overhead, and androids doing menial work, so we’d be zipping around, 90 minutes from New York to Paris, or ‘the chance to start anew in one of the colonies of Jupiter.’
Well, enough of that for now. While we’ve wasted our youth complaining about lower-expectations, and the ennui of our times, inventors got busy, and came up with exciting ways to get us in gear. You’d be surprised how close we’re from a new age of cars. And it yes, they all come in black.
A few months ago, we told you about the Terrafugia, a foldable-wing car-slash-small plane, that became the first private aircraft to be licensed by the FAA. Something about its design, though, which resembles a German jeep from the 1940s, low speed, crammed cabin space, and stiff price, didn’t drive anyone to take their shirts off.
But alas, it somehow opened the floodgates, and now pretty much every month there’s a new design being tested in some secluded desert, that promises to take the world by storm. And they’re no longer being developed by the crafty weekend-hobbyist; many heavy weights in the industry are getting in the game early, and often.
It may not happen tomorrow, though, so you too can keep your clothes on for a while. But chances are these things will be coming to mass production even before the 1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trepardoux Dos-A-Dos Steam four-seater, the world’s oldest still running car, grinds to halt.
If you think that there isn’t enough demand for such a radical change, one that has the potential to literally leave the present in the dust, you may be underestimating the unpredictable factor at the root of most modern inventions. As Henry Ford once said, about his invention: “If I had asked people what they want, they would have said a faster horse.”
Finally, for those who feel that we ought to move faster, and catch up with the sci-fi world already, a word of caution. Despite all laws and heavy penalties, people who should never get behind the wheel, still do, and still cause unspeakable lifetime heartbreak to loved ones and Continue reading