Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

Billions will sleep hungry tonight; many won’t even wake up again. Food waste is rampant globally, and despite a booming ‘dumpster diving’ movement, the brutally unequal distribution of resources seems irreversible. Still, we obsess about death row inmates’ last meals.
It’s fitting, though, as the U.S. leads the world in jail population – although China’s executes the most -, and food and obesity are a national, self-flagellating narrative. Nourishment’s beside the point here; the last supper is arguably a prisoner’s finest hour.
For the record, we didn’t start this fire, er, tradition, which has some noble, some not so much, origins. But we did with that what we do with everything else: we’ve turned into a for-profit, politically charged issue. The piety tinges of its inception are now all but lost, though. And what most of Europe consecrated as a pseudo-humanitarian gesture by the state, warding off the ire of revenants in the process, has become a contentious debate over whether it’s setting the ‘wrong’ example.
Yeah, who wouldn’t commit a gruesome crime and spent years in subhuman conditions, just so to be ‘rewarded’ with a steak and eggs meal? 18th century England had set the puritan tone of the age: the condemned shall have only bread and water until hanged to death.
TIPS FOR PICKY EATERS
In 2011, after one Lawrence Russell Brewer didn’t touch his food, Texas, the U.S. top executioner and likely earliest adopter of the last meal custom, has graciously abolished it. No such concern for 20 other states, including New York, that don’t have a death penalty.
Among so-called Western societies, the U.S. stands alone on the issue, joined only by several African, Asian and, for some types of crime, Latin American nations. Obviously, this sort of stats does not include death by paramilitary groups, secret government squads, or drones.
Still, the following post is neither about the death penalty nor an inmate’s choice of last meal, even if it touches both subjects. Published nine years ago, it’s still fresh as everyone’s food should be, and just like it, to be enjoyed a few times a day. Bon Appétit.

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Food for Survival

Here are two captive groups whose appreciation for food may vary wildly: death row inmates and hostages. Relax, we would never say that that’s the worst of anyone’s problems.
But if you find yourself in such a predicament, what you’re about to read may be useful, even life-saving. No sweat, we’ll be here to collect your gratitude in case you pull through it.
There are though a few certainties, once you become a resident of the most feared antechamber in the U.S. It’s been ages since you last believed you could make it out of here alive. Mostly, you’ve been preparing for what comes next. But first, let’s eat.
Since shopping for food is out of the menu, the state provides your last one at no charge. What would you have? At that stage, concerns about keeping your ballerina silhouette are, of course, all behind you.
So you do have the choice to enjoy a lard-laden dinner with no (more)
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* Out to Get You
* Late Supper
* Ketchup With That?
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Having Guts

Down the Chute, Where
the Slimming Bacteria Live

The mouth. While some may call it a temple for words and tastes, where great thought are expressed, and divine flavors often pay visits, it has also another, far more reductionist and not so noble, role: it’s only the first of two ends of a very long tube.
Albeit we won’t get it to that other side, not now anyway, our survival as humans still depends on what travels down into our fat lips, crosses the battleground of our guts, and gets out through a drain hole. Not all is turmoil in there, though. So come, let’s meet the locals.
For despite the many realms our thoughts have conquered, and the reasons why we orbit around the universe of the table, and always come back for more, we go out of our way to dissociate such fulfilling parts of life from what they ultimately imply, body-wise.
We made love and food with our months, and often recite with eloquence what they mean to us, and coyly, how we could never ever live without them. However, any mention to what goes on below the belt, and our appetite goes into a receding mode, embarrassed that we’d even thought about it.
And yet, deep down, you know you think about it, all the time. It’s just not something that, thankfully, most people would like to share on Twitter. But from a medical point of view, we really are what we eat, even though no parallel connection has been established yet between thought and personality.
That’s why Gulp, Mary Roach‘s book on the human digestive system in all its warts and, well, more warts, is so illuminating. And also, why there’s reason to some cautiously feel good about research that points to a bacteria that may have been making people fat all along.

FANTASTIC VOYAGES
In the 1966 movie, a loose adaptation of a series written in the 19th century by Jules Verne, former Bond girl Rachel Welch leads a team of miniaturized scientists who are injected into a man’s carotid artery to destroy a blood clot in his brain. Of course, if they’d fail, the entire world would end.
It was one of the first cinematic incursions into what was known then about the insides of the body, but mercifully, they stayed clear from digging too deep or going down under. Also, because Isaac Asimov wrote a novelization of the movie’s screenplay, published right (more)
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Before Afterlife


Upon Departing, Would You
Tell a Story or Leave an App?

The flip side of living longer is that death now may also take longer to finally succeed. That drives some to rehearse their award acceptance speech, and others, to compose long goodbyes. Here’s to your own, self-penned obituary, and the app and avatar that’ll outlive you.
It’s like custom-making your own narrative. Soon there’ll be more Websites of the departed than the breathing kind like us (knock on wood). A not so silent majority dwarfing billions currently walking and cursing, who in turn are but a fraction of everyone who’s ever lived.
We should be careful about what we wish for, though. One of the gifts of being alive is that, mercifully, we have no idea when our time is up. The powerful industry of ‘cure,’ however, by making sure that we last, may be spoiling even that most gracious of nature’s charities.
Heaven forbid if we were to take away such a precious comfort from those on the death watch, though. After all, to have time to prepare one’s affairs, and everyone around, for that announced demise is no small miracle. Hence, the wills, the lists, the begging for forgiveness.
The same with this new realm we’ve created to keep our distance from others, the Internet. Who do you know who knows your passwords, Wed identities, and above all, your wishes about what to do with it all? Not many and most are not even slightly interested in knowing either.
You can always program, though. Better than to leave behind a wake of digital detritus, why not set something up, or find a way to terminate it all for good? A few predated posts may just do the trick. And there won’t be any need to deputize someone else to run things afterwards.
Granted, the person who’s gone won’t particularly care one way or another. So it’s just an ethical matter of some consideration, on whether you’d like to continue, so to speak, indefinitely, or would rather leave space for those who actually stand to be affected by it: the living.

BETWEEN TOMBSTONE & LIFEBOAT
Marilyn Johnson has helped disperse the common idea that newspaper obituaries, for instance, should be shallow and phony in their eulogy to the dead. In her intriguing The Dead Beat, she demonstrates how obituary writing is an important art form, usually assigned only to experienced journalists. One of the most read sections of any paper, the death notice must tell a compelling story starting by what’s (more)

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* Final Cut
* Ways to Go
* Went Before

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Sunken Past

When a Drought Uncovered Ghost 
Towns & a Scary American Future 

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

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

Writing About the Departed With
Art (or Sending Them Off to Hell)

Writing one’s own obituary is almost as hard as accepting compliments. Or stopping self-congratulating. Some do it for fun, but writers have turned them into an art form. A tough editorial beat, they may actually outlast both newspapers and print journalists. For now, though, every media vehicle has a file stuffed with celebrity obituaries. Just in case.
summation of somebody’s life, they’re far from the niceties-ridden cliches of yesteryear – or when penned by family and friends. Still, some are not above using them to settle scores with the deceased, as it happened to Popeye, June, and Kathleen. Not that they’d care.
Many would be surprised that the written take on the classic eulogy, resembles an actual tombstone: title, brief vital info, and epitaph, all condensed between a few hundred to a thousand words, give or take the departed’s station in life. ‘A tight little coil of biography,’ as Marilyn Johnson put it to the NYTimes, when she published Dead Beat in 2006.
‘I try to get into the head of the person,’ says Economist’s Ann Wroe, about writing Prince‘s obituary. Her paper was a late comer to death notices, but for over a century, they’ve been a distinct feature of the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, and the Times. The genre did experience a renaissance of sorts, though, in the early 80s, according to Johnson.

Jim Nicholson, of the Philadelphia Daily News, is often cited as making an imprint on obituary writing style. He did find ways to give a patina of relevance to the life of even the most obscure stiff, by adding unusual details, dug out of interviews, and without resorting to redundant figures of speech or phony superlatives.
But no one could’ve devised what’s now a trend: the final tirade, designed to highlight not virtues but cruel flaws and unforgivable slights that the now – good riddance! – dead supposedly imposed onto the writers. Truthful or spiteful, it’s catching on and there’s no telling when it’ll, well, die out. Thus, mind your ways, or it may happen to you too.

HURRAY, HORSE’S ASS POPEYE IS DEAD
Leslie Ray ‘Popeye’ Charping, 74, died Jan. 30, in Houston, Texas, after battling cancer for years. A regular, nice obituary will go on, mentioning his good deeds, and loved ones he left behind. But Shiela Smith and Leslie Roy Charping, his two children, would have none of that.
In their brutal eulogy, they wrote that ‘Popeye’ lived 29 years ‘more than he deserved,’ and listed ‘being abusive to his family, and expediting trips to heaven for the beloved family pets,’ among his hobbies. Not ones to find anything nice to say about him, his kin added a few more choice ‘qualities’ of his.
As ‘he did not contribute to society’ and ‘possessed no redeeming qualities,’ lovely Shiela and Roy chose neither to hold any service nor ‘prayers for his eternal peace,’ in lieu of the lack of apologies ‘to the family he tortured.’ ‘Leslie’s passing proves that evil does in fact die.’

NO KIND WORDS OR DEEDS FROM JUNE
Cornelia June Rogers Miller, 86, died Feb. 23, in Gainesville, Fla, hardly knowing that her death was not going to be missed, at least for one of her daughters. Posted anonymously four months later, her obituary went viral, raising charges of plagio, and causing a bitter sibling ruckus.
‘Drugs were a major love in her life as June had no hobbies, made no contribution to society (see a pattern?) and rarely shared (more)
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* A Life, Abridged
* Before Afterlife
* Ways to Go

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Out to Get You

In a Mad World, There Are
Jobs Only Psychopaths Can Do

They mesmerize you just like a spider would. And just as well, haunt your nightmares. There may be one among your dearest friends. The thought of you knowing a predator who may consider you no more than prey, is as scary as wondering whether you may be one.
But now we know more than ever about psychopaths, through books, movies, and real stories. There’s a new understanding about their evolutionary role and they, gasp, may not be as fearful as society thinks they are. Or at least, not without purpose.
Whole sections of bookstores, or rather, on your favorite online seller, are about their pathology, traits, even theories as to why some of us have no empathy to peoples’ feelings, or pain, while others are just glad to marry them out of sheer awe of their personal power.
Of course, every one of these treatises starts by defining what a psychopath is, what it is not, and most important, what the hell is the difference between them and sociopaths. By now, we’re all cognizant to such variances and mostly have a pretty good idea about what kind of compulsion drives them to do what they do best.
And what’s that, again? If you’ve said that it’s murder, you may not know as much about them as you thought you did. For, according to modern psychology, psychopaths come in a myriad of varieties and, even if you’re not particularly inclined to know the gory details of their mindset, you may at least educate yourself, just enough to, you know, get out of their way.
For despite all contemporary reassessment about what a predator is and what it does, there’s not much change in one basic reality: no one should get on their bad side. Just like sharks, you don’t want them to be extinct, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready to jump in the water and swim alongside them.

THE BLURRY WISDOM OF POP CULTURE
There are now studies purporting to justify the valuable role psychopaths may play in society, what we can learn observing one, how successful some have become as captains of industry, about how some online games make you act just like one, and, yes, whether you are a closet murderer, but that you already knew about it.
Other research supposes what a psychopath would do – you see, just like Jesus – in any number of situations. Or how badly the movies have portrayed them, even though you may kind of miss them when, and if, they finally meet their comeuppance in your favorite series. In fact, they’re ever present in popular culture.
And in real life too, of course, although it’s relatively rare when someone like Bernie Madoff gets caught. Behind the much patting in the back, there’s the shame of realizing that none of his victims anticipated what he was up to. And some of them genuinely thought they were best friends, up to the very, bankrupted end.
After all, remorse is not something that’s usually part of the palette of positive attributions behavior psychologists believe psychopaths could teach us. But (more)
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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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Downtime

Seven Treats to Give
Yourself & the World

The year has started with a bang and your head still hurts. So let’s ease ourselves into it, as gently as possible, shall we? Thus our very useful guide of stuff to do – the kind you never find time for – whose rewards you’ll be collecting way beyond December. 
Like, serving meals at a Soup Kitchen. Or taking a bath, in a sensory-deprived tank. You pick the order. In a pickle? The state may owe you cash. Kinda blue? Host a pet this weekend. And more. New York choices are plenty for serving and be served. Just sign on.
For soon enough, there’ll be laundry to do, people to call, and debt collectors to avoid. Holidays are brutal, and their toll usually lasts for months. Here’s your chance to break the mold and get started on something rare, to remember this January like you never done before.
Only a minority is already living in this future we may’ve imagined 2016 would be, this same time last year. Most of us can’t even write the date correctly yet. Gosh, there’s still so much left to do just from a few days ago, let alone 12 months past.
Never mind new resolutions. Nothing ever changes purely on their account, anyway. Start simple, they say, progress wearily, and proceed with caution. We know, our head hurts too. Who can stand strong emotions so soon? Take this guide and calls us in the morning.

PICNIC AT A GRAVEYARD
It may sound morbid but many are still mourning the death of yet another year, without achieving anything near what David Bowie, who’ll be 69 this Friday, already had at a much younger age. So weep, but take some wine and cheese with you. You’ll be in good company.
Green-Wood, in Brooklyn, and Woodlawn, in the Bronx, are both beautiful, full of history, and peaceful enough for some quiet crying. Plus, they’ve both hold periodic activities, some after midnight, of course, that don’t involve your corpse just yet. Good hauntings.

SERVE SOME SOUP
Come holidays and big dates, someone always has this idea of volunteering at rescue missions around town. Problem is, they’re usually fully booked at those times, by others just like you, except a bit more industrious to enlist their names. It’s all good, though.
Now, most places can’t get enough help. With increased homelessness in this frigid city of ours, it’s a golden chance to fulfill one of those rare urges that doesn’t benefit only you. Whether it’ll make you feel good about yourself is irrelevant. Gotta serve somebody.
TAKE A TANK BATH
Neuroscientist John C. Lilly (who’d have been 100 today) is credited with developing sensory deprivation tanks, where one can float for hours on Epson salts. Later, he added LSD to the experience, (more)
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The Hypothesis

Suicidal Monks & Life
Coaches Get No Respect

There used to be a constant applied to death and suicides in the U.S.: No one wanted to hear about them. That now may be changing, and it’s not because people are no longer dying or offing themselves. More likely, the Big Sleep itself has now joined the conversation.
Take the increasingly popular Death Cafes, for instance. Or the Order of the Good Death, led by a mortician. Some may have finally found the guts to at least talk about it. But what when professional optimists choose to do it? And what should we write before we go?
Paraphrasing a quote attributed to French playwright, and brilliant madman, Antonin Artaud, suicide is not a solution but a hypothesis. Great, but tell that to someone literally on the edge, and see how it works out. Fortunately, it’s not something taught to suicide helpline volunteers.
On the other hand, the whole death-as-a-subject avoidance has turned modern societies into pools of denial. It’s either changing the subject or outsourcing an answer. That’s when religion, as it happens, picks up the tab, in exchange for no small contribution. Thus, it’s not death but faith that’s a booming business.
It may be easier to delegate our fears to the embrace of a ready-made storyline than having to create our own plot about them. But there’s a price to pay for that. We freak out to the sight of a corpse because we’re so unfamiliar with our own mortality, at least, for most of our lives.
On top of that, sits the Robin Williams, Who Wouldn't Take It (Peggy Sirota)taboo of suicide, which is often regarded as an abomination, when it’s at the most, an act of profound individualism, taken when it seems the only option left. Despite the brutality of the act itself, the worst is usually inflicted on those closer to the one who’s gone.
While they’re left to agonize over somebody’s moment for the rest of their lives, studies have shown that suicide also impacts their own descendants. It is a curse to those left behind, a fact hardly ever considered when someone inches closer to their own murder. In the end, though, there’s no particular glory on dying or being born.
It’s what happens in between that counts. Then again, the zeal with which many insist that everyone must be happy, no matter what, can drive frail souls to the brink. Such a sunny outlook has its own dark (more)
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After the Flood

Katrina or When Climate Change
Collided Against the Racial Divide

They called for help but it never came. As the nation witnessed entire counties drown on TV, the president refused to cut down his vacations. The storm turned the Big Easy into one of the hardest places on Earth to survive. And a compromised recovery would be short and flawed and unequal.
They promised to rebuild but more than lives, personal belongings, and memorabilia got lost in the flood. Gone was also both New Orleans’ patina of a supposedly racial democracy, and yet another national lame excuse to deny climate change.
As it goes, both were currency during the Bush administration in the immediate post 9/11 era, when his government acquired immense powers to avenge, in a phony cowboy way, the open wounds of American society. Katrina, thus, was far from a ‘natural’ disaster.
The government that sent to the U.N. an honored but misguided black Secretary of State, to justify the Iraq invasion with manufactured evidence, had also promoted an energy policy based on fossil fuels that’s now directly linked to the climate deterioration of the planet.
A policy that, while lining government officials’ pockets, from the VIP down to close allies in the industry and oil-producing countries, has been instrumental for an explosive growth in the destructive power of storms such as Karina, and the wild fires now raging in the West Coast.

WHY THEY WERE LEFT BEHIND
Despite our first black president‘s usual brand of shinning rhetoric and optimism about the future, the state of race relations in this (more)
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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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Hiroshima at 70

Weary World Marks
a Somber Anniversary

Within a minute, the world would be changed forever. Life ended instantly for 80,000, and would be cut short for twice as many in just a few months. Worst of all was the fear that, for the first time in history, mankind could easily destroy itself, a fear that ushered the Cold War.
From Japan to the U.S., from Germany to Brazil, and all corners in between, millions are joining in to renew vows against the still untamable power of the split atom, even in its limited ‘pacific’ uses. But along with tragedy, the nuclear age has also produced heroes and redemption tales.
At 8:15am local time, the Enola Gay dropped its terrible load, perversely named the Little Boy, over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, after what its inhabitants may have thought was just another air raid siren, alerting for American bombers flying overhead. It wasn’t, or rather, it was way more than that.
Three days later, the Fat Man, another gun-type uranium device, destroyed Nagasaki, the final act of a two-punch strike that, for apologists, broke Japan’s imperial ambitions in the Pacific, and effectively ended World War II. Or so goes the official narrative.
What the mushroom clouds actually ignited was the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which at few crucial moments almost came to a civilization-ending blow, and a new era of unimaginable terror for all other nations, impotent to stop the two superpowers from acting like the world’s overlords.
But it’s also helped breed a new crop of pacifists who made us understand the risks of having the planet’s fate rest with so few, and highly belligerent, hands. It’s their activism and courage that have granted the world a reprieve, and prevented other cities from being destroyed like those two.

DISFIGURED BODIES, WHOLE SOULS
First, there were the survivors. Even though most of them died within a few years of the explosions, thousands of citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took upon themselves to show the world what such power really is capable of. As they perished from radiation and other diseases, their legacy passed on.
Soon after, even former Japanese combatants joined in, convinced that they had been part of a war that had no winners on that particular front. The bomb’s destructive power caused many despicable (Click below to continue reading)
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* Nukes for Nuts
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Farewell to a King



Cecil, the Lion, Who Wore
His Mane & GPS With Pride

He couldn’t have cared less how he’d live or die; just did it both the best way he could. The slaughter of Cecil the Lion, an iconic Zimbabwean big cat who’d been studied for most of his 13 short years, continues to generate waves of grief and anger throughout the Web.
His death, however, is more of a despicable routine than a surprising casualty. His killer, a dentist who’s now candidate to world’s worst person according to a dubious online consensus, spent a small fortune for the right to maim first, and then execute, the majestic feline.
Cecil left behind his brother Jericho and the extended pride they both commanded, along with a bloodline which will most likely be exterminated too. He also leaves years of research for the Oxford University team that outfitted him with a GPS collar to track his whereabouts.
It was a brutal death after an equally brutal life, but of the two, the first one could’ve been avoided. Cecil spent his last agonizing 40 hours with an arrow wound, before being found by his heartless hunter and his over-equipped posse, who then proceeded to shoot, skin, and behead him.
But for as much as this was a senseless act, that tears to shreds the arguable view of humans as innately inclined to compassion, as it stands, it’s far from being unique, final, or even solely attributable to the low member of the species who perpetrated it.

MOVABLE BLOODBATH FEASTS
After all, our ambiguity towards animal killing is not about to be dissipated by the martyrdom of one lion in the jungles of Africa. Neither a spike in collective adherence to Veganism is about to trend on Twitter; we’ll keep on eating burgers as if they have nothing to do with anything.
In a way, it was also a devilish twist on the David vs Goliath legend: the only way a hunter can win is by deception and Continue reading

The Far Out Report

For These Gut-Churning News,
Laugh Only When You Breathe

So busy digressing about things too serious to skip, those worries and concerns transfixing our age, we often forget that life finds a way all around, and mostly despite, us. One more disgraceful news and we risk losing the ability of flexing the muscles of our smile.
So let’s pretend summer is really easy, fish are a-jumping, and if not cotton, then someone is high. Anyone would, coming across F.W. Murnau’s head, or a performance corpse, or an one-line obituary. In fact, reality often threatens to drive even comedians out of business.
Heard the one about Zimbabwean money? The currency is so devalued that someone can have, say, Z$35 quadrillion in his or her banking account, and still starve. A hot dog may cost a little beyond that. In the U.S., it does: all this money is worth only one dollar.
What about ‘dick pics?’ Even NSA whistleblower Eduard Snowden was surprised when told that what really scares Americans was not the fear of an all too powerful government, but having their nude pictures watched over by spies, who should be busy with something else, anyway.
But that sort of iconography is indeed dear to our fellow citizens. Take 1934 public enemy No.1, for instance. A photo of a dead John Dillinger may have created the biggest hoax about him: it looks as if he’s having a post-mortis erection right under the blanket.
Unlikely, of course. It was probably a fluke. But does it matter? His notoriety is now forever melded to his supposedly endowment, regardless if it has anything to do with guns or not. Go figure. And don’t forget to check the Skip Showers for Beef‘ campaign. You may thank me later.

GRAVE ROBBERTS & THE VAMPIRE
On to the main course. For fans of gore (and low-standards real life puns), the theft of F.W. Murnau‘s head is a full dish, to be savored with cheap wordplay and poorly concocted theories. But it really happened: the grave of the Nosferatu‘s director in Berlin has been desecrated.
Worse: news reports about it wound up adding further grievances to his family and fans of one of the greatest masters Continue reading

Gatekeeper of Outerspace

Pluto & the Fading Thrill
of the Great Discoveries

Little engine that could. Ugly duckling. Nine-day wonder. Pictures that the New Horizons satellite took of its arrival at Pluto, after a nine-year trek, have stunned the world by their unexpected beauty, and even jaded space buffs have marveled by what’s been revealed to humanity.
The going has been rough for the heavenly body that sits at the edge of our Solar System. Not long after the probe’s departure from Earth, Pluto had already lost its planetary status and been downgraded to a dwarf planet. Other indignities could have followed it as well.
But the striking images still arriving from Pluto may change all that, at least in part, igniting a new found curiosity about the universe in the process. The last time that happened was arguably when the Pioneer twins brought us closer to the wondrous realm of Saturn and its ring system, in the 1970s.
Still, whether newly acquired knowledge radically speeds up our current understanding, Pluto’s planetary arch, from Mythology to joining the brotherhood of the Solar System, and then falling precipitously from grace, is already a rare and impressive saga.
Pluto was eagerly anticipated to be discovered since Antiquity, way before Clyde Tombaugh spotted it in 1930. Venetia Burney, 11 at the time, suggested its name, ‘because it hadn’t been used,’ as if unaware of the Greeks, who called it the God of the Underworld.
Known as the ninth planet orbiting the Sun for 76 years, Pluto‘s ride as such came to a crashing halt when the International Astronomical Union redefined the concept of what it means to be a planet. Despite heated arguments, Pluto failed to pass the new classification.
As for Tombaugh, who died in 1997, one may say that he was spared the embarrassment of seeing Pluto’s status demotion, but is somewhat sharing the glory of its resurgence to the eyes of the world: his ashes are entombed on the New Horizon capsule.
In Brazil, there used to live a German astrologer who believed that every time a planet would be in evidence, Continue reading

Undercover Suckers

The Roof Came Down First;
Then the Bed Bugs Attacked

We’ve been outed. Neighbors are looking at us as if we’re lepers, whose very breath can infect them with the curse of filth and decay. We hear whispers behind our backs, and almost feel the fingers pointed at us on our wake. Suddenly, we’re ground zero to everyone else’s horror.
No, there are no chunks of human flesh in our refrigerator. Or a special task force looking at our faces pasted on charts at some police precinct. Any despicable acts of malice or evil? No, not yet anyway. We’re just hosts of the latest scourge of living in Manhattan: bed bugs.
The first reaction most people have once they become aware that the person they’re speaking with has been exposed to flesh-eating bugs at their own bed, besides instinctively taking a few steps away from them, is disgust. And the false realization that somehow, it’s all the person’s fault.
Never mind that they seem to be everywhere these days. Questions about personal hygiene, or unsavory habits, come to mind, along with visions of dirty food containers laying around the house, candy wrappers and scraps of pizza on the living room’s sofa, and, of course, a clogged toilet bowl, stuffed with industrial-grade human waste.
It’s also the last thing they’ll be willing to talk about, before coming up with an excuse for a quick retreat away from any possible contamination. Possibly, even the thought that perhaps everything that person has done or spoke about in the past is now somewhat tainted by the revelation.
We’re all quick at seeing ourselves above others, taking a sanctimonious stand that grants us the grace of appreciating without restriction our wise life choices. Specially compared to someone who could be so vile and crass as to invite beg bugs to feast on their own bodies. Repugnant.

DWELLERS OF TENEMENT WALLS
Be I digress. Fact is, when the ceiling finally collapsed on the bedroom, after years of water seeping through and leaking ROOF, a century of semi-rotten wood literally rained over us, bugs and dirt included. Whether there’s a connection, it’s not clear yet, but that’s when it all started.
Our tenement building, as thousands of others in New York, has outlived its initial life expectancy, and stood the passage of time with incredible dignity and vigor. While many others came down, dead by old age or real estate greed, ours remains a beacon from another time in the city.
We, ourselves, are all but a relic, what with our negative banking account, our defiance to stay put while everyone around us could as well purchase us on the cheap, and still wishing to shape and inspire the future with our humanity and hopes for better days. Just don’t tell that to the son.
In any event, and mostly for being sheltered within such a fortitude of a construction feat, we’ve managed to withstand the challenges of being underfunded and Continue reading

Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees

The Unbearable Silence of
Disappearing Pollinators

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

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

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

The Third Rock

Why on Earth Would This
Planet Need Only One Day?

Let’s get this out of the way: I dislike Earth Day. It wasn’t always that way, but now some sort of sanctimony is definitely attached to it, and it gives me the creeps. So much so that I’m forced to write on the first-person, as if my opinion is even remotely required.
Still, I’m not knocking the merits of having a day, a focus to draw attention to what now seems more than ever a lost cause. After all, prior to its inception in 1970, the date had a noble origin, as it used to be celebrated as Arbor Day since the late 1800s.
But after 45 years, Earth Day means a lot of things that I despise about our species. And weeks before it, I always find myself wishing that the planet would react against all we’ve done to it, and get rid of us already. I’m sure it’d stand a better chance of surviving.
Not just this speeding piece of blue rock, but every other being living on it. For the more I read about depleted resources and long-term damage, regardless if by land or if by sea, the closer I get to capitulation: to hell with us and our self-appointed (and illegitimate) ownership title over Earth.
It’s your right to disagree, of course, and if the subject is threatening to overcome you with doubt and grief, feel free to join the parties set all over the world to mark the occasion. I hear that some people may even wear flowers in their hair, just like as it was back then.

WHITE LUST, BLACK MARKET
But just a shallow skimming of environmental news from the past few years (not even an eye blink if you were a planet) is enough to give me a hangover and getting me back under covers for the day. What else can I say? somehow, sometimes, I just can’t handle it.
Have you heard of the very last male Northern White Rhino, that’s been under a 24/7 watch by armed Kenyan guards? Well, just ask how much those rangers make, and you may guess how much the rhino will last. What about the current rate of 100 African elephants killed a day?
Both species are being felled by the estimated $1 billion a year ivory trade, which also victimizes other animals, and produces absolutely no essential goods whatsoever. It only feeds vanity, luxury, and the stupid myth that it boosts male sexual prowess. Dignity, where art thou?

GETTING BACK TO THE BRINK
Just on cue, Elizabeth Kolbert won this week the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction with ‘The Sixth Extinction,’ which analyses in depth the role of mankind in the elimination of the largest number of species in the planet since the Dinosaur age.
That we’re driving so many species to extinction is clear to anyone not currently sponsored by the Koch brothers. But what’s staggering about this realization is that since the previous mass die-off, 65 million years ago, one of the last species to show up is already responsible to commanding the next.
In this terrifying context, it makes absolutely no sense for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Continue reading

Before Afterlife


Upon Departing, Would You
Tell a Story or Leave an App?

The flip side of living longer is that death now may also take longer to finally succeed. That allows some to rehearse their award acceptance speech, and others, to compose long goodbyes. Here’s to your own, self-penned obituary, and the app and avatar that’ll outlive you. People do wish to control their own narrative, and obituaries are potentially the final word about it. And soon there may be more Websites of those who went before than the breathing kind like us (knock on wood). Just like the current humanity, counting in the billions as it is, is but a fraction of everyone who’s ever lived.
We should be careful about what we wish for, though. One of the gifts of being alive is that, mercifully, we have no idea when our time is up. Long, extended diseases, and the industry of the ‘cure’ making sure that we last, however, may be changing even that most gracious of nature’s charities.
But heaven forbid if we were to take away such a precious comfort from those on the death watch. After all, to have time to prepare one’s affairs, and everyone around, for that announced demise is no small miracle. Hence, the wills, the lists, the requests for forgiveness, and the peaceful way to depart from this realm.
The same with this new, decades-old world we’ve created to keep our distance from each other, the Internet. How many of those you know know your passwords, your Wed identities, above all, your wishes about what to do with it all? Not many and most are not too eager to give that sort of advance notice away either.
You can always program, though. Better than to leave behind a wake of digital detritus, why not set something up, or find a way to terminate it all for good? A few predated posts may just do the trick. And there won’t be any need to deputize someone else to run things afterwards.
Granted, the person who’s gone won’t particularly care one way or another. So it’s just an ethical matter of some consideration, on whether you’d like to continue, so to speak, indefinitely, or would rather leave space for those who actually stand to be affected by it: the living.

BETWEEN TOMBSTONE & LIFEBOAT
Marilyn Johnson has helped disperse the common idea that newspaper obituaries, for instance, should be shallow and phony in their eulogy to the dead. In her intriguing The Dead Beat, she demonstrates how obituary writing is an important art form, usually assigned only to experienced journalists. One of the most read sections of any paper, the death notice must tell a compelling story starting by what’s known as Continue reading

Village People

Three Towns: Sudden Slumber,
Aging Dreams & Cozy Oblivion

In one, people are falling asleep without warning. In another, they’ve dropped out long ago. And yet, the other shelters the mentally afflicted. There are places we move to, and places we’d rather stay clear of. And then there are the ones we visit for a life-changing experience.
This being the first day of Spring in the northeast, despite the snow forecast, discerning globetrotters would be already pressed to plan that skew, cultural-enhancing time off. Let us introduce them to three places capable of matching their inquisitive minds. Still with us?
There would be little sense in talking about the blue of the Caribbean sea, or the gusts of the Mongolian steppes. There’s even less to tell to those seeking the familiarity of pool attendants and the exotic sway of foreign shores. Let them go and pray that they keep their memories for themselves.
It’d also be unsound to send light-headed travelers to places where daily gunfire chases away beauty, and extreme poverty strips locals of dignity. Let’s let that to unsavory tourist guides, with their slick packages and greased brochures, and take a moment to mourn those stranded in bloody beaches.
Still, it’s a vast and mostly uncovered world, if one cares enough to learn while traveling, and leave a gentle impression before returning. Just like Sahara sands cross the Atlantic and fertilize the Amazon Rainforest, a journey should sow some seeds for every root uncovered.
Then again, why invoke a haboob, or a bad pun, to make a cross-pollination point? A trip is often worthier for the places it opens up within the traveler’s mind than the ones visited by the body. Thus our urge to introduce these towns, where residents may have something to uncover within you.

DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES IN KALACHI
Few outside this town of less than 700 people in Kazakhstan had heard of it before 2010. That’s when the outbreak of a still unidentified malady was first reported: people would suddenly fall asleep and remain like that for hours and even days. It continues to happen.
Five years later, and countless outbreaks since then, 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

Western Omelet

Freeze Eggs, Pick the Time &
Get Pregnant. Any Questions?

There are many reasons why a woman would choose to freeze her eggs. Career is often invoked, albeit it’s also overrated. Beyond the pros and cons of such decision – and they are indeed many -, getting there has its own hefty share of potential risky turns.
Health, emotional state, peer pressure or economic status, it all may affect a woman’s drive to maternity. But whereas social bullshit, or technology shortcomings, may be unavoidable bumps, there should be no other role for her mate, if she’d happen to have one: to shut up and pay close attention.
There’s a rush, among Western societies’ elites, to plan life as if following a recipe, with measured servings of duty, pleasure, adventure, and comfort, healthy assumptions, and invested decisions, all supposed to offer a well balanced meal of experiences and zest.
But life hardly follows such prescription. Rather, its messy development assaults even the most pampered among us, pushing most of everyone to engage on an endless chase after what’s next. Along the way, sense of purpose and grasp of reality may get lost.
To a woman it’s also entrusted a double-weight task, as her body is claimed by all sides as support to their own survival. Thus, all festering assumptions and expectations, both onerous and false, about what ‘nature’ expects from a female. Needless to repeat, nature has nothing to do with it.
As women wrestle control over their right to procreate whenever they find it fit, technology has kept apace, offering an array of valuable tools. Despite society’s self-serving obscurantism, the women’s struggle for self determination has become template to a whole range of human rights issues.

PLANNING FOR AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Choice is still denied to the majority of women living outside the bubble of industrialized societies. But even for the privileged few, such tools don’t come cheap. And the decision is as wrenching and grief-prone as any responsible parenthood step can be. Maybe more.
In statistical terms, most women in the world live in squalor conditions, with no running water or power, and are in charge of kids, lovers, and relatives. Many are enslaved or paid a fraction Continue reading

Undeciphered

Treatise or New Language,
Voynich Enigma Is No Hoax

In the age of massive data collection, of inflated intelligence budgets, and of mastery of secrecy and surveillance, it’s a sobering realization to see how a 15th century manuscript continues to humble ciphers and code experts, as the Voynich has been doing for ages.
Since its rediscovery in 1912, some progress has been made, but overall, all efforts to understand it have been thoroughly defeated. Despite several theories, and a few words deciphered, the content of this exquisite document remains elusive and mysterious.
Named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish-born book antiquarian, who acquired it in Italy, and owned it until his death in New York in 1930, the Voynich Manuscript has been handed by some of the most brilliant minds of what became later known as the global intel community.
Alan Turing, the British computer wiz who later broke the secrets of the German Enigma machine, took a crack at the Voynich, and failed. So did William Frederic Friedman, one half of the so-called America’s First Cryptographic Couple (with wife Elizebeth Smith), who worked for decades for the U.S. military.

WHEN CODE BREAKERS GET BROKEN
Having decoded hundreds of papers (and previously obsessed with a theory, later abandoned, that works by William Shakespeare were actually written by Sir Francis Bacon), he spent decades on the Voynich, but came up with only a well-crafted but ultimately vague anagram, whose key was revealed after his death in 1969.
‘An early attempt to construct an artificial or universal language of the a priori type,’ was all he could gather of the manuscript. Many others tried their hand, or at least worked theories around its origins. Among the most durable, two out of four are still standing and show promise.
An interesting take was advanced by Lawrence and Nancy Gladstone, pointing the book’s authorship to Roger Bacon. But for all its elegance, the theory lost steam after Continue reading

Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

Billions will sleep hungry tonight; many won’t even wake up again. Food waste is rampant globally, and despite a booming ‘dumpster diving’ movement, the brutally unequal distribution of resources seems irreversible. Still, we obsess about death row inmates’ last meals.
It’s fitting, though, as the U.S. leads the world in jail population – although China’s executes the most -, and food and obesity are a national, self-flagellating narrative. Nourishment’s beside the point here; the last supper is arguably a prisoner’s finest hour.
For the record, we didn’t start this fire, er, tradition, which has some noble, some not so much, origins. But we did with that what we do with everything else: we’ve turned into a for-profit, politically charged issue. The piety tinges of its inception are now all but lost, though. And what most of Europe consecrated as a pseudo-humanitarian gesture by the state, warding off the ire of revenants in the process, has become a contentious debate over whether it’s setting the ‘wrong’ example.
Yeah, who wouldn’t commit a gruesome crime and spent years in subhuman conditions, to be finally ‘rewarded’ with a steak and eggs meal? 18th century England had set the puritan tone of the age: the condemned shall have only bread and water until hanged to death.
In 2011, after one Lawrence Russell Brewer didn’t touch his food, Texas, No. 1 in executions and likely the earliest adopter of the last meal custom in the U.S., has graciously abolished it. No such concern for 20 other states, including New York, that don’t have the death penalty.
Among so-called Western societies, the U.S. stands alone on the issue, joined only by several African, Asian and, for some types of crime, Latin American nations. Obviously, this sort of stats does not include death by paramilitary groups, secret government squads, or drones.
Still, the following post is neither about the death penalty nor an inmate’s choice of last meal, even if it touches both subjects. Published four years ago, it’s still fresh as everyone’s food should be, and just like it, to be enjoyed a few times a day. Bon Appétit.

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Foods for Survival

Here are two captive groups whose appreciation for food may vary wildly: death row inmates and hostages.
We won’t say that’s the worst of their problems, but in the event you find yourself in either predicament, you may find what you’re about to read useful, perhaps even life-saving.
Don’t worry, we’ll be here to collect your gratitude in case you pull through it and live to tell the story.
WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
There are very few certainties, though, once you become a resident of the most heavily guarded antechamber of any U.S. prison. Let’s face it, your chances to walk out are pretty slim. And shopping for food is simply out of the menu.
Luckily, the state provides you with one last wish. What would you have? At that stage, concerns about keeping your ballerina Continue reading

Mad Beverages

Gatorade With Flame Retardant
& the Brew From Christmas Trees

Imagine that there’s proof that America’s favorite football drink, Gatorade, is loaded with a dangerous substance. Surely the NFL would jump against the prospect of its faithful fans to be gulping something so toxic, and take steps to ban the stuff, right? Well, not really.
We’ll give the C word a rest after this, but what’s the deal with beer made from Christmas trees? Despite being popular with ancient Scandinavians, who would drink it to prevent scurvy, and certainly for entertainment purposes too, it never really caught on ever since.
We’ll discuss these two crazy beverages in a minute, but let’s open today’s proceedings talking about the other way around: the not so excitable world of sobriety. As it turns out, there’s a surprisingly adverse effect caused by less alcohol consumption, at least in the business world: clients spend less.
Come again? According to a Douglas Quenqua story on the NYTimes, there’s an almost insidious prejudice about non-drinkers. The little secret about it is that sober people may be perceived as untrustworthy, and even not very good at executing that killing trade.
It’s a gross misrepresentation, to be sure, akin to mistrust by some abstemious about those who can’t seem to function socially without a cocktail glass in their hands. But the focus of the story is the possible cultural pressure in the business world toward drinking, specially if a crucial sale or a key contract needs to be signed.
And yet, a walk through midtown restaurants at lunch hour may convince anyone that fifty years, and not merely 15, have passed since people used to drink at least a glass of wine spritzer, when sharing lunch with clients or colleagues. Three-Martini power lunches, then, Continue reading

Trick or Truce?

Game That Stopped WW1 May
Have Never Happened. So What?

It supposedly went on a century ago today, on the Flanders Fields of Belgium. English and German soldiers put down their weapons and deemed a friendly game of football more appropriate for Christmas than the roar of canons. And so they played, according to a soldier’s letter.
But alas, as inspirational it all may sound, there are doubts about the account, which is in line with our age of cynicism and inconsistent devotion to the truth. It’d have been great, but many are not sold on the idea that such a truce would’ve been even possible.
Then again, who cares? Yes, if it isn’t true, then ‘reenactments‘ of the episode are ridiculous, lessons to be learned about human piety are downright phony, and even the statue, ‘designed by a 10-year-old boy,’ is, well, besides the point, isn’t it? It really doesn’t matter.
The following year, both sides made it official: anyone attempting to get cozy with the enemy would be summarily shot. But the idea that we do have the power to replace hostilities, Continue reading

The Whale Report

An Albino, Granny & the
Lonely One, Plus an Arabian Pod

For residents of a planet covered by water, we know little about the sea, and arguably, even less about the creatures that live in it. Not even whales, the biggest of them, – a mammal like us, and a former land animal – we know much about. We should hurry up, though.
Centuries of whaling have cut down their population. Pollution and human habits may finish them off. Before that happens, though, you must learn about three unique individuals, and a very odd pod, still swimming the oceans and challenging all assumptions about them.
To be sure, it’s not easy to study animals who live in another element, plus, there are species so secluded and hard to observe in natura that our only hope to gather insights about them is when their carcasses wash ashore. We’re still to catch a live giant squid, for instance.
In fact, we’re so desperate to know more about whales that we’ve been studying everything we can grab from them: their songs, their breath, their earwax, their vomit, even their poop. Each has shed some light on their behavior, history, even their perception about our presence.
We know now that they can live up to 110 years, possibly more, and that they’re sociable beings. Thus many may have stored somewhere within their giant brains, the memory passed along from previous generations, of how we used to hunt and slaughter them mercilessly.
But even without that memory, they have plenty of reasons to fear and mistrust us. Right now, nine companies are lobbying to use seismic air blasts to look for oil and gas off the Eastern Seaboard, a practice that’s been found to be harmful to Cetaceans and marine life.
We can’t list here all the wrong things about that. But it does make the more urgent to introduce our guests today: a rare Albino humpback; an 103-year-young grandmother Orca; the world’s loneliest whale, and a group that’s been genetically isolated from all others for 70,000 years.

THE BIG ALBINO FELLA
When Herman Melville wrote about the white whale that became Capt. Ahab’s obsession and ruin, he echoed centuries of fear about these giants. It also helped that Moby Dick was loosely based on a terrible event, the 1820 wreck of the Whaleship Essex by a sperm whale.
But Migaloo, a rare white whale that’s been pictured frolicking (and singing) around, is a humpback and has done nothing to inspire fear. Not the sole Albino out there, he’s the only one with no spots, though, and his gregarious personality has delighted those who’ve observed it.
Scientists know that it’s a male because it sings, and his name, the Aboriginal word for ‘white fellow,’ does him justice: at the estimated ripe age rage of 22-25, he’s still growing and may survive another half century. That is, if pollution, human presence, air blasts, etc, etc.

GRANNY DID IT AGAIN
Marine biologists only realized Granny, a matriarch of a pod of Orcas that live in the Pacific, is the oldest known of her species because they’ve followed her, and her calf, Ruffles, since the 1970s, helped by her distinctive patches. She must have been in her 60s, then, they say.
To determine age is not an exact science (rings formed in their earwax offer a more precise picture), and it’s silly to link her to human events (oh, she was born before the Titanic sank, some said). Still, Orcas, also known as killer whales, have had a troubled history with humans.
Organizations such as SeaWorld insist in apprehend them for profit and entertainment, and ignore that they need the vastness of the ocean to thrive. Granny was spotted on an 800-mile trek within just a few days. Thank goodness she was born as free as she should be.

THE LONELIEST SONG
We’ve told you about 52 Herz, the whale who may never find a mate because her songs are sung in a much higher frequency of all other whales. We’ve known about this mysterious creature since 1989 but so far, have failed to capture her on camera.
Judging by her migration patterns, she seems to be a baleem whale, a species to which belong the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, and the fin whale. But because

Continue reading

National Outrage

The Conversation About Race
& Police Brutality Has Started

Thousands of protesters took New York, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, and other major U.S. cities to demand a stop in the all too apparent racist tinge by which law enforcement agents have been consistently targeting black youth in this country.
Americans seem to have finally reached a break point this week, after two white cops, who killed two unarmed black young men, Michael Brown, of Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner, of New York’s Staten Island, will not be indicted for their acts.
Acknowledging the growing, widespread mistrust on police departments everywhere, the Justice Department has ordered a review of both cases, but haven’t been able, so far, to dispel the public perception that it’s already behind the curve.
While both cases share similarities aside their obvious racial overtones, there are also glaring differences between them. While witnesses may have offered diverse accounts of how Brown was shot, the fatal chokehold that asphyxiated Garner was captured on video.
Their deaths come at the tail of a long, disturbing string of police killings of unarmed black teenagers, that predates Garner‘s death on July 17, and includes the seven who were killed since August 9, when Brown was shot. To dare saying that this is not about race is just downright absurd.
Obviously, other factors should be also taken into account, from an unprepared and ill trained police force, to an increasing contingent of dispossessed and impoverish minorities in the U.S. Yes, income inequality is a big element underlining these tragedies.
But there’s also a need for a real hard, honest, and open-minded look at race relations in America, circa 2014, which is resembling every day more like the 1960s. We could as well take a page from that book on Civil Rights and check how much that we take for granted, we’ve actually forgotten.
Americans may have finally awaken to the shame of living in the richest country in the world while it’s being turned into a playground for the very wealthy, and a holocaust for those at the bottom, with the shrinking middle class 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

Immigrant Break

A New Hope for Millions
of Undocumented Americans

As President Obama announces his executive order to temporarily keep an estimated four million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., giving them a rare chance to argue their staying in this country, we thought we should republished some related posts.
As the order may impact millions of immigrants with no access to legal status based solely on their labor and contribution to the American economy, it may be their children, which account for 6.9 percent of the U.S. population, who may benefited the most.
The president’s speech also give us a chance to dig deep into Colltales’ vast archives, while taking the time to watch it. Despite four major U.S. networks having decided not to carry it on live, this executive order is one of the most important of his term.
It has huge implications and, even if it took him so long to go alone on this issue, and that a Republican congress may do what it shouldn’t to reverse it, we hope it’ll help correct a great injustice perpetrated by our nation: the way it treats its immigrants.

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

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

Curtain Raiser

A Debate of Little Substance, Colltalers

Poor old Chris: since the 1960s, he never seems to catch a break. Every year a new spark adds flame to the bonfire and demotion of the Columbus legacy lore. From intrepid conquistador, ‘first global man,’ to the greatest agent of ethnic cleansing in modern history.
In truth, debate over the discovery of America (actually, what’s now Bahamas, but never mind), 522 years ago yesterday, is now more nuanced, and his legacy, a bit better understood. Seattle, though, couldn’t wait: Oct. 12 is now Indigenous People’s Day.
That it rarely falls on that particular day (as a movable holiday, it’s marked on the second Monday of the month) is not the point. The movement to turn it into a celebration of the millions of natives who perished when the Genovese landed in the Caribbean island has gained momentum worldwide and other places are expected to redefine the day according to a new understanding of that.
Revisionism aside, though, political correctness not always work on hindsight and often tends to turn a well worn tradition into an incoherent travesty, with no bearing either to the historical record or justice to the figure itself. In the case of Columbus, however, it makes sense reassessing the myth, add context, and reestablish a narrative that may serve a higher purpose.
Despite Seattle’s early move, though, today will likely proceed as planned, following a familiar pattern of most American holidays: parades, political grandstanding, shopping, and B-B-Qs. And time off, of course, which for many won’t even be part of the bargain.
This year, the official story was assailed from the left field, by a respected discipline, unrelated to the controversy: underwater archeology. Last May, a team of ocean explorers thought they had found the shipwreck of Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria, off the coast of Haiti. If further studies would confirm it, this could revive the dog-eared holiday with a fresh paint of wonder.
But it wasn’t to be. U.N. investigators have proven that the carcass was of much more recent vessel. Copper nails, found at the site, were exactly the ones sinking the theory for good, since at the Italian mariner’s time, shipbuilding would use iron nails, not copper.
More: at least one historian, American-Portuguese Manuel Rosa, is now questioning even the belief that the Santa Maria ever sank. To him, the ship was hauled onto the Haitian shore, used to house sailors left behind by Columbus, and later, burned down.
Even if neither of these findings relates to the ongoing cultural and political revaluation of the sailor – who supposedly lost his way to ‘the Indias,’ and the lucrative spice markets of Asia, but found a spanking new world – globalization and its woes certainly has.
What was expected to be the end of border wars and the creation of a global market of all goods produced by mankind to benefit all corners of the world, with free trade and exchange of knowledge and riches among all, became another nightmare of even greater contrasting realities between the mega rich and the miserably poor. Worse: it’s accentuated a hundredfold racial and ethnic hatred.
The arrival of Christopher Columbus to a new continent – strangely not named after him, Continue reading

Dime a Dozen

Who’ll Notice If These
12 Street Kids Are Gone?

Take a good look at these faces. If we were to pull your heartstrings, picture them dreaming of being doctors, artists, teachers, even presidents of their countries. Chances are, however, they’ll never make it. Both statistically and in real life, it’s likely they’re already gone.
Despite their resemblance to kids you know, they only count as dehumanized figures of ignored treatises on the homeless, the war, infant mortality, hunger, prostitution, slavery. Not to break those strings, but you may pass daily by them and not even notice.
Yes, they have stories, and much good to contribute to the world, and who knows, maybe among them there’s someone who one day could even save your life. But that doesn’t mean much.
And yes, there are a lot of people who spend their waking hours, and sleepless nights, working and wondering what to do, so unrelated children will be cared for just as if they belong to families and loving friends and an empathetic society. But most of them do not, and won’t get a chance to even know what that means.

You’re still free to wonder about whatever happened to Alex or Indira, after they posed with their sleeping cots, and you may search on the Internet for the identity of those two Cambodian boys, sleeping embraced on a set of steps. We added the photographers’ names just in case.
You may also inquire around about those two girls, among thousands of others, who seemed so happy with the bottles of water they’ve retrieved amid the rubble of Gaza. Or you may wish that those two boys, who’ve crossed the border of Syria to Turkey with their families, have found shelter.
We won’t stand on your way. In fact, we’d even appreciate if you could help finding out who are those four American kids, sleeping in what seems to be an abandoned room, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Climate Alarm Went Off, Colltalers

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

Three to Get Ready

Through Changing Times, Occupy
Wall Street Remains on Message

While the third anniversary celebration of the Occupy Wall Street movement was a subdued affair last Wednesday at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, it’s fitting that Strike Debt, one its offshoots, was scoring a major win on its efforts to buy and cancel debt.
As a couple of hundred activists were back at the place where the protest was launched, on Sept. 17, 2011, the group’s Rolling Jubilee fund announced that it’d cancelled some $3.9 million in private student debt it’d acquired.
Raised by donations, the amount covered unpaid tuitions owed to one of for-profit Corinthian Colleges‘ schools, and so far, represents the only effort being made nationwide to alleviate an estimated $1.3 trillion owed in student debt by some 40 million Americans, no thanks to Congress or the federal government.
Not bad for a movement that has refused to abide by a national political agenda, has no recognized leadership, and despite declarations to the contrary, remains one of the sole voices still seeking justice for millions of Americans penalized by the Wall Street excesses that brought the world financial system to its knees in 2008.
While the movement as a whole is not exempted of criticism for its at times fractionary strategies, and internal divisions, it’s managed to remain on its progressive message Continue reading

Bloody Girdles

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

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

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

Curtain Raiser

The Dignity Collectors, Colltales

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

Facedown

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

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


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

We’re Not Alone!

The Secret, Trillion Lives
Crawling In & On Your Body

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

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

Round Robin

The Heavy Toll of
Making Us Laugh

The suicide of Robin Williams provoked a global outpour of grief and sadness, as the beloved comedian chose to end it all in such a brutal manner. Equally intense has been the dutiful warnings about the nefarious impact of long-term depression on any individual, even one whose special talent was to make everyone else happy.
But despite all the proper sobriety and legitimate hurt feelings we all felt about Williams’s self-inflicted demise, almost immediately after the news broke and even before we could process such untimely loss, there was already an army of ‘feeling-goods’ trying to make us ‘move on’ and not to dwell ‘too much’ on his death, and focus instead on his life work.
In one side, it’s an admirable effort, that of focusing on the person’s legacy rather than the circumstances of his passing, or even death itself, lest not reduce a lifetime of extraordinary humanistic accomplishments, into the demeaning mechanics of a final act. But in all that, there’s something else less noble apace, too.
It’s Americans’ seemingly pathological fear of acknowledging death that is troubling. For we tend to trample nature and fail to give the grieving process its due, rushing to bottle up and put a lid on any semblance of loss, in exchange for a quick return to normality and the happy ever after.
Such fear of feeling bad or appear ‘weak’ for showing emotions is rooted deeply in the culture, and can be traced back to the stoicism of pioneers and pilgrims who braved the vast land and tamed its formidable elements, to carve a nation out of brute force. Displays of vulnerability were simply not an option, then.
It extends to our familial ties and how we value the sole heroic dare over the community drive, the individualistic gesture instead of the search for consensus. It’s at the foundations of women’s oppression, as they must not only have to appear sensual and attractive, but also be perfect mates, good sports, and ruthless professionals, all done with 70% of the earning power of their male counterparts.

THE DICTATORSHIP OF HAPPINESS
It’s infected our workplaces, with the emergence of the chief happiness officer, on duty 24/7, and a geek chorus of boss cheerleaders, always demanding a smile and an ‘upbeat’ attitude, whatever the hell that means on a Monday morning. We’d all better comply if we know what’s good for our paychecks; just look at that menacing pile of resumes, not yet tossed by HR.
And it gets under our skin every time we spot one more wedding notice on the Sunday paper, about the consorts’ rosy happenstance and expensive ceremony, sealing their next average 10 years together. Don’t mention stats on divorce, domestic violence, nickel and dime betrayals, or vicious brawls Continue reading

Bloody Throes

The Hiroshima Reminder
& the Age of New Killings

Capping a few particularly blood-drenched weeks for thousands of civilians around the world, today’s the 69th anniversary of the mass killing of almost two hundred thousand residents of Hiroshima, by the first ever U.S. atomic bomb attack. It sealed the end of the World War 2 and started the nuclear age.
Meanwhile, Israel’s has withdrawn for now its ground troops from Gaza, but bombs continue to rain over Ukraine and Iraq. Plus, 100 years ago last Monday was the beginning of WW1, while around the same time, 50 years later, the first American combatants were sent to Vietnam. Blood soaked time, indeed.
Yet, for a breed of beings that’s been waging war since its inception on this planet, we’re surprisingly coy to call this game of mutual extermination for what it is. When it comes to rile up the troops and send them to the slaughtering fields, we’re often like bad parents, and lie to them that it won’t hurt. But it always does.
We insist in giving the carnage a catchy name, and promise it won’t last, but it always does, no matter how jazzed up the latest campaign is marketed to be. Remember ‘Shock and Awe?’ Almost like what the schoolyard bully would promise to do with us, at the end of the classes.
The writer H.G. Wells, best known as one of the forefathers of modern sci-fi literature, could’ve spared his legacy from a tragic miss, when he gave that first international conflict a pompous sobriquet: ‘the war to end all wars.’ 37 million dead, and two decades later, he couldn’t believe the world was ready to have another go at it.
To bury Japan’s imperial dreams of taking over where Hitler’d left off, the U.S. leveled two entire cities – Nagasaki was destroyed three days later, with almost another hundred thousand killed -, using atomic power, and justified it by claiming that such a power could not be topped, and it’d be forever a deterrent against war.

WHERE LIFE’S CHEAP, WAR’S MOST FOUL
And yet, many more followed. Speaking of justification, the Vietnam War, perhaps the most traumatic conflict the U.S. got ever involved, was triggered Aug. 4, 1964, with a confrontation with North Vietnamese forces at the Gulf of Tonkin, by covertly operating American ships.
The incident prompted Congress to give an unfortunate carte blanche to President Lyndon Johnson, and later Richard Nixon, to escalate a war that even now remains difficult, to well, justify. Coincidentally, Nixon signed the end of the war in 1973, and resigned from office 40 years ago this coming Saturday.
What we didn’t know then was that the only thing that the atomic bomb could possibly sustain was fear. Out of it, another war lingered, the Cold one, just enough to reset borders and redesign political alliances. Once we were done with it, Continue reading

Who’s the Ass Now?

But They Blow Up
Donkeys, Don’t They?

When news broke in Gaza that the Israeli army had blown up a donkey, claiming it had been loaded with explosives by Hamas, it’s likely that few thought much of it. After all, way before Jesus got to Jerusalem mounting one, animals have been butchered for the sake of humans.
But for reasons that have little to do with biblical tales, and a lot with the way life cheapens at the sight of a gun barrel, a disturbing poignancy about such a minor casualty refuses to remain unnoticed, at least for those not concerned about their immediate survival.
That’s us, if you wonder. For while some may say that exposure to horror, to too much blood and gory, desensitizes and freezes our empathetic bones, we too refuse to swallow the brutality, however common, if only to vainly assert to ourselves that we haven’t gone completely numb. Not yet, anyway.
Horses, a better regarded member of the family, have had big roles in wars, of course, dutifully used to transport, terrorize, conquer, and run away from whatever human tragic folly is at hand. And so have elephants, camels, dogs, birds, pigs, rats, dolphins, and sea lions. All forced to slave and soldier on even where humans fear to tread. By the way, cats apparently refused to be enlisted.
But jackasses, or mules or burros or jennies or, well, you get the gist, despite their lower ranking, have been used mainly for work, not to be treated as bomb mule, pardon the pun. They have in fact this almost beatific status among impoverished communities around the world, to which they serve and are vital.
Asses are smart too, according to Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Speaking of Known Evils, Colltalers

The two brutal events that have seized worldwide headlines this past week – the newest flareup in the age-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the downing of the Malaysian commercial airline over Ukraine – have visited their victims with the prospect of a lifetime of grief and regret.
To everyone else not directly involved, however, even a qualified analysis of these tragedies can become a minefield of self-important punditry and rancorous radicalism. To navigate such a path with a minimal sense of justice and impartiality is simply no longer an option.
The magnitude of these events have also the ability of covering up, even if only for the duration of a 24h news cycle, all other tragic, ongoing miseries festering around the world, from the street trenches of Aleppo, to raging firefights in Kabul, to the Central American refugee children crisis in the U.S., to widespread hunger, poverty, and environmental woes that won’t fail to exact their grim tolls, just because we aren’t looking.
After all, it is all too human to prioritize our attention, and set sights on a few targets at a time. That doesn’t exempt or redeem anyone from the objectionable crime of dozing off or zooming out of the catastrophes all around us, so to get some sleep, literally or figuratively.
But even invoking the word human seems out of place, when you think about the ferocious shelling of Gaza, incited or provoked as it may have been by the Hamas or the Israeli extreme right, or to count among the victims of Flight MH17, dozens of children and important AIDS activists.
That’s when tragedy crushes our tenuous grip on reality and reaches out to a realm of pure, unjustifiable and hopelessly irredeemable terror, and any attempt to make sense out of ruthless fate or shameless political motivation is not just utterly naive, but also absolutely abhorrent.
We can’t avoid rushing to judgement based on the emotional jolt we all felt upon learning that some 300 travelers may have been blown out of the sky by mistake, at the very least, or because of some downright evil calculation. Nor can we stop ourselves from jumping at possibly the wrong conclusions when picturing people running for shelter in Tel Aviv, or trapped in Gaza, with no way to hide from the raining bombs.
Taken apart, however, these two sources of incredible heartache gracing our thoughts today have little in common, beside their complexity and deep roots. And, obviously, the apparent lack of any short term solution in the horizon, which signals to their long lasting endurance.
To avoid jumping at rushed conclusions about Israel and the Palestinians, one needs to look farther back into the past. It’s hard to pick a breaking point, though, Continue reading

Have a Ball

The World Cup Next
Door & From Far Afield

Brace yourself for withdrawal symptoms; it’ll be all over in just a few days. Even after all agony, nail biting till none was left, and much cursing at the TV, one can’t help it but start anticipating the crush of the end, which is nigh. The World Cup has spoiled us rot.
It may not have been the same since Team USA bowed out. It’ll be hard to see the whole U.S. so completely taken again by the explosion of cheers, jeers and untimely heartbreak, flags galore and packed bars all around. But we’re not quite done yet.
World Cup 2014 LogoWhat a difference a few cups have made. From 1990, when the sole network showing the games would break, American football style, for commercials, to now, when U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard was rumored for a possible renaming of the Reagan Airport, in Washington, DC, it feels almost like another country.
The Super Bowl would never command such an arrested crowd, but this is nothing new around the world. Even in the middle of sparsely populated regions, in public plazas and shantytowns, by desert nomads and war refugees, people still found the time to watch the games.
In Europe, such gathering by the thousands rivaled in numbers big mass rallies, but the comparison must stop right there: while those taking the streets to demand social change may get beaten, football fans risked only disappointment. Thank goodness, no hooligans to report so far. Good riddance too.

For sure, not all is like a sweet block party, plenty of cake and no guns allowed. While those are now rare in America, the World Cup still feels like an extended holiday. Disgracefully, our team won’t be at the final, but even if yours will, you’re unlikely to be spared from feeling empty either, coming Monday morning.
Thus enjoy it while it lasts. Heaven knows that people in Bagdad, in Gaza, in Damascus, and in Mogadishu, Continue reading

The Scream Is Over

The Biggest of the Little Guys
Gets Bounced Off the World Cup

The World Cup has always been a lot of things to a lot of people. In fact, for millions of Americans, there could hardly be anything more important happening this Tuesday than the game that Team USA was playing against Belgium in the Brazilian city of Salvador.
But the cup is a brutal place for underdogs. Despite its cathartic explosion of goals, already exceeding previous editions, it also has a predatory taste for heartbreak. Thus when Lukaku scored and kicked out the U.S. from the tournament, millions of dreams were crushed.
World Cup 2014 Logo copyThe unprecedented crowds that overwhelmed bars, clubs and eateries throughout the States were absolutely sure that this was not going to be Belgium, even if it was Tuesday, and cheered and screamed and dared to imagine victory until what felt like a sucker punch in the gut.
The deafening silence that followed the referee’s final whistle would moved to tears even the hardest Neocon, or those known for despising beggars and Greenpeace activists. The 2X1 score was even more disappointing because, as it’s often the case, the U.S. was so close to tying it, so close to overwhelming it.
It wasn’t to be. Not that this is unfamiliar territory for the only major nation on the planet that calls football soccer, where the great majority still prefers to follow its insulated brand of league sports, and whose notion of a global ball competition involves exclusively its Northern neighbor.
There’s no need to act so sourly about Jürgen Klinsmann’s choices. After all, the current cycle of sunspots is also not what it’d been cracked up to be, scientists say. So if even the billions-old shiner can afford an off cycle or two, so can Clint Dempsey and his mates. And so can we all.
Which doesn’t mean that Team USA’s ride wasn’t thrilling, as it’s been for at least three consecutive World Cups, and that they haven’t given their very best, which it’s also been the case for the longest while. Then again, you can say the same about pretty much every ‘little’ team that never makes it to the final.

EVERY BIT A FLAMING TRAIL
For there hasn’t been a single case of a fragile team winning it all in this almost century old tournament, including the big guys, when they play a notch below their historical best. Continue reading

Cold Cups I

Fads & Ads Compete for
Another World Cup Score

Once the ball starts rolling in São Paulo tomorrow, not everything will be about football. It hasn’t for over a year now, if you’ve been following the street protests in Brazil, as it hasn’t ever been about the game only as long as, well, Fifa remains in charge.
Thus, as much attention will be paid to players’ skills as to their ability to sell wares with their bodies, attire, and hairstyles. Cynics may even say that what’s at stake is not who’ll win the World Cup, but which sportswear company will sell the most: Nike or Adidas.
Increasingly, what soccer stars wear and endorse has indeed driven revenues of sport and designer goods, along with their personal tastes for tattoos and haircut styles. We can’t really end this sentence without mentioning David Beckham, the retired British player.
But while Becks has the physique of a natural born model, and his commercial appeal is only enhanced for his pop-star turned into stylist wife, many others have distinguished themselves for personal choices so ugly esthetically speaking, that they become iconic just the same.
Case in point: Brazil’s Ronaldo Nazário’s hairstyle at the final of the 2002 World Cup in Japan. He scored all the goals and his team won the trophy, but that ‘triangular island’ of hair on top of his otherwise shaved head captured more than its share of advertising’s prime real estate.
No wonder it leads the New York Times Hairdo Hall of Fame now. But enough of your hair, what about shoes, Imelda Marcos? My, haven’t you heard, dahling? red is the new black. Or orange. Or any color but black. We should’ve heeded a certain pontiff’s personal taste; just saying.
A FORMER POPE’S FASHION FANCY
As it turned out, we greatly underestimated ex-Pope Benedict and his exquisite choice of foot attire. He was only foreseeing the future, you see – the one presided over by current soccer-crazy Pope Francisco – when flaunting the most famous pair of red shoes this side of Dorothy.
Now in Brazil, word is that every soccer star worth his fashion endorsements will display a pair of colorful shoes, sometimes one for each foot, matching jersey or hair die optional. And the crowds have gone wild over them. Black shoes? Only if you’re a referee.
Purists may decry this lack of substance that threatens to take away the sport’s very own vitality in the name of fads, which by definition and unlike soccer legacies, are not built to last. But there’s no denying: athletes have been selling wares since way before Beckham sported a Mohawk. Does anyone remember Colombian Carlos Walderana’s do, at the U.S. World Cup in 1994? The Hairdo Hall of Fame surely does.
For footballers themselves (and here we stop a long-running fancy of misnaming an American ballgame and give back the name football, at least during the month-long tournament, to soccer as it’s already known by billions around the world), it’s more than an extra income. Many have turned their Continue reading

The Whirled Cup

Five Bullet Points On Brazil

& a Split-Decision to Strike

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

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

Body Building

Corpse Raiders & the
Market for Spare Parts

The FBI is investigating an underground network of human organ sales. Greece has been accused of illegally allowing the ‘harvesting’ of the heart of a dead U.S. Marine. And there’s suspicion that a black market is now a rising global reality. What’s going on?
Welcome to the brave new world of what you don’t like to think about the future. The flip side of modern medical research, which is developing ways to grow and regenerate cells, organs and limbs, is the gruesome traffic of body parts, with or without consent.
Guess who is more vulnerable to selling their bodies (not that way, you perv) for what can never be enough? the poor, naturally. Some would even say that, before its ban, the sale of human blood was a common form of earning cash for skid row denizens everywhere.
Well, even those heartless souls who’d invoke such a grim precendent are finding the mechanics of this new trade too much to stomach. But abstracting the heavy ethical implications, we may not be too far of such a nauseating prospect, in this age of everything has a price.
Not that everyone who could eventually afford such revolting trade would do it, let’s be clear. Morals have no particular attachment or relation to material wealth or lack thereof. Still, it’s unlikely that such a gruesome market would be able to flourish cash free.
Because, face it, money and privilege are the obvious candidates to at least entertain such a possibility. But before we go to far down this rotten route, let’s praise the less Frankenstein-tinged use of medical technology which has, in reality, made great strides.

BIOLOGIC SCAFOLDING
For over 100 thousand Americans, the prospect of a brand new industry focused on developing organs and other ‘components’ of the human flesh and blood machine from stem cells, for instance, is not just exciting, but a source of hope for a radically better life.
Research into nursing cells that will grow to build different organs is far advanced, and has fortunately crossed the phony moral threshold of religious concerns. Demand is overwhelming, which shouldn’t surprised anyone: the U.S. needs more than any other country fresh new organs.
The reason: war, of course. In fact, a considerable percentage of Veterans returning from tours of duty – courtesy of the Pentagon and its steady shipment and deployment of American troops all over the world – are in desperate need for limbs and reconstructive surgery.
As it turns out, restoring at least partially their physical integrity is the relatively easier stage of their lifelong rehab process. And medical 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