Black & White


The Flip Side of a Chase
Is a Man Leading the Crowd

Many pictures dispense interpretation. Most tragedies could do without another opinion. The nation is transfixed with the unforgivable string of killings of unarmed black youth by those assigned to protect them. Grief has boiled over, calls for justice are once again being heard.
Will the death of Freddie Gray Jr. suffice for us to go from indignation to effective legislative action? Or is Baltimore only the last stop in this tragic journey of blood through the streets of America? Are we really ready to forget this one too? Are we really ready to go on?
It’s too much sorrow, too many mothers and relatives mourning the violence that seems directed at one particularly underprivileged, and often ignored, segment of the population. Thus, this picture and how we may choose to interpret it, so we can get some sleep tonight.
Not another young black man being chased by a platoon of armed, and armored, policemen, but an unsuspected leader of a new charge for change, and a new day for racial equality in the U.S. (more)
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* Curtain Raiser
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Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees

The Unbearable Silence of
Disappearing Pollinators

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

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

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

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

Gotham Suit

A Bold Names’ Quarrel Disrupts
Elusive World of Fonts & Typefaces

Their muted elegance often goes unnoticed by readers. They can’t be detected by word count, spelling or other resources at writers’ disposal. Their selection is personal. Yet once a font is chosen, a whole world of subtle references is added to the content.
Even designers, unsung heroes of the print trade, may fail to pick the right type. And few knew that two stars of the form, Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, had split up.
Called ‘the Beatles of the font designing world,’ an unusually hyperbolic reference to a trade that most people ignore, these two developed a partnership creating some of the most recognizable fonts we’re all familiar with these days.
We’ll get back to their contentions acrimony and ultimate settlement. Their Gotham font has a huge following, but most people are more familiar with Helvetica, in part due to the ominousness of Apple gadgets. Fonts are like that: you don’t even know that you like them.
Typefaces have served way more than their purpose, as design subtly drives people’s tastes and acceptance of new products, a strong sales point. Helvetica, for instance, is so influential that it’s inspired both a Swiss watch company and a Dutch cookie-cutter designer.
Sweden Sans is now that country’s official lettering, playful and patriotic. And, in another welcoming stretch of functionality put at the service of the well being of many, there’s Dislexie, another Dutch designer-created font to help people with the disability to read better.

A STILL VITAL MOVABLE INVENTION
Since Johann Gutenberg‘s erroneously perceived invention of printing, there’s been a certain fuzziness about what consists a font, what’s the difference between that and the older term type, and whatever the hell does it matter to anyone to know anything about them both.
The 1400s were a time of great inventions, but the one that originated a press loosely resembling printing machines of the Industrial Revolution, came to life at least a century before, Continue reading

War Lord

Women May Lead Our
First Mission to Mars

For some three billion years, Mars looked all but dead, despite misplaced expectations astrophysics had about it all along. Now, as if acting on cue, it seems to be having a renaissance of sorts. Even a comet has paid a close visit to it last week.
Besides the two rovers still soldiering on its inhospitable surface and atmosphere, NASA plans to thoroughly explore it, with a possible human landing sometime in the next two decades. A number of international satellites are also on its orbit.
But despite its allure and beauty on our Zenith, Mars has had a problematic and somewhat disappointing history all along. It closely tracked Earth’s own development for at least a billion years, until something went terribly wrong and, by the time we showed up, it’d gone completely astray. A kind of recovery may be in the works, however, as some believe that life may have come from there.
Lucky us, disaster struck the red planet and not to the blue one. While a climatic inferno wrecked havoc on Mars, it didn’t take long, in astronomical terms, for Earth to bloom and become simply the most beautiful and friendly place in the whole wide universe.
That we act uncaring and downright abusive to this paradise is a matter for another time. The fact is that Mars has attracted so much attention that one wonders whether ancient people were up to something when they nominated it as God of War. Or hasn’t anyone heard the words ‘permanent’ and ‘war’ uttered so often together lately?
There was once a famous German astrologer that was so dedicated to find links between the influence of the Zodiac’s heavenly bodies and the human psyche that whenever a planet would be in evidence, she’d point to a corresponding ‘impact’ it’d have on us.
Thus, when the Pioneers and, later, the Voyager probes sent back those stunning images of Saturn, in the 1970s, she immediately related the event to the era’s economic recession, lines at gas stations in major Western cities, and so on. For her, it all had to do with the celestial Lord of the Rings’ particular charm.
Whether she too was on to something still depends on what one believes, but there’s no question that she was very much in synch with the Greek Pythagorean concepts of Astrology, once considered a science, to which Ptolemy formulated additional precepts. Egyptians and Romans concurred to that school too.

VOLUNTEERS FOR A ONE-WAY TRIP
NASA has been preparing a potential crew to make the trip to the Martian steppes, and even if we still lack the proper transportation to do it, a number of endurance experiments have been conducted with small groups of people. Another team has just started a six-month period of isolation in Hawaii, for instance.
Many ideas have been floated about what such a hazardous trip would consist of, including the possibility that it’d be a one-way ticket journey, meaning that the pioneering astronauts would not necessarily come back ever to Earth. A daunting prospect, indeed, but one that may have its takers.
Experiments in dieting, self-renewed sustenance, revolutionary farming techniques, even rigorous psychological training to prevent the crew from becoming overwhelmed with boredom, or worse, have followed. A variety of styles in new spacesuits are also in the works, from Barbarella to Buzz Lightyear, with all the bells and whistles that not even Ray Bradbury had dreamed of.
The latest of a long series of hypothesis and proposals to maximize a trip to Mars represents a novel idea and has a particular appeal to at least 50 percent of humankind: the possibility of sending a crew of mostly, if not solely, women to Mars. One assumes, on a round-trip basis, though.
The proposal is surprisingly not new, as NASA did consider sending a woman as the first human in space, an idea whose time was then still to come, but that now may be just ripe. The rationale has little to do with gender politics and a lot with caloric intake and preservation.

WOMEN ACTUALLY BELONG IN MARS
For such a long, perilous, and expensive journey – a price tag has been conservatively estimated to be about $450 billion – weight becomes a serious consideration. And a woman’s body does weight less in average than a man’s, consumes Continue reading