Getting There

The Dying Art
of Passing Away

There are people who dream about impossible places they’d like to go to when they die. We too imagine someday resting in an improbable place: the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. But just so we’re clear about it, we said ‘someday,’ not now, or tomorrow, well, who knows? In any case, once we cross that threshold, we won’t give a damn.
However, even if you do, you may be still out of luck: some places have the inconvenient rule of forbidding people from dying there. Either because your wasteful body may ruin the environment, or climate won’t decompose it, or perhaps because they just don’t like you. So your choice may be as well to remain alive. Or almost, like the walking dead of Toraja. Good luck keeping your friends close, though.
As for us, we’ll never understand this drive to stay alive at all costs. Doesn’t anyone realize how everything became incredibly expensive? Besides, who wants to last longer than our loved ones? In other words, we’re fine with the expiration date that’s part of the deal of living. Oh, and we don’t need to know the day or the way either.
About those places people imagine will be throwing a red carpet, or rather, a fluffy, white-cloud rug, and a welcoming party, we’re not so sure. It’s kind of taxing to start picturing a whole new set of realities to be faced after however long we’ll spend struggling to make sense of what’s around here. Very distracting.
But so you don’t think we’re knocking anyone’s beliefs, let’s suppose that it’d all be exactly as it is in this presumable afterlife? Why would nature go to such an extent to go after each and every one of us with everything it’s got only to let it all to continue as before just under different circumstances, then what? Oh, never mind.

PLEASE DON’T DIE HERE
In Japan, there’s an island, Itsukushima, that’s considered so sacred that they don’t want no stinking likes of you there. That is, they’ll put up if you’re still talking, and especially, walking. But go drop dead somewhere else. In fact, since 1878, no one was born or has died there, and they may kill you for even trying it.
The enforcers are a group of otherwise pious priests, who spend the days in prayer at the island’s holy shrine. But all hell may break loose at even a sight of a pregnant woman, an elderly person, or someone who’s terminally ill, although it’s not clear how would they know it. It all started with the Battle of Miyajima in 1555, after which all bodies were immediately removed from the island and the spilled blood was either cleaned or disposed of. Yeah, that kind of piety has been going on for over 400 years, just so you know.
Not so strict but still a difficult place to die at is Longyearbyen in Norway. No priests are banning the dead there, though, just the weather, still cold enough to preserve bodies indefinitely. People buried a century ago look like they’ve just fallen asleep. Which, let’s face it, it’s kind of creepy. Yes, that’s changing due to the climate emergency but just in case, get the hell away from there, fast. One never knows.
Two other places prohibit people from dying there by decree. Both (more)
__________
Read Also:
* Dead Can Dance
* A Life, Abridged
* Ashes & Dirt

Continue reading

The Aitch-Old File

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

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

ONE FLEW OVER THE HORNET’S NEST
When white Anglo-Saxon protestants use the self-celebratory acronym to define their disappearing species, the notion that a highly resilient insect, with a powerful venom and a wing-battered soundtrack to match it, can be even remotely compared to them is at best, laughable, and at worst, deeply insulting. To the bugs, of course.
Wasps, after all, are colorful, diverse, independent and capable of great beauty. Well, if you think about the pain that both groups can inflict, perhaps. But the comparison should stop even before that annoyingly preppy brand of self-serving individualists walks into the sunset. Could mass extinction be appropriate? Not for the bugs, please.
Another thing hornets are masters, and Wasps are not, is the art of papermaking.  No other species cultivate such a complex relationship with the flora like them. From the pulp made of pure, selected pieces of wood fiber, curated from an array of sources in your backyard, if you have one, all the way to the exquisite labyrinthine contraptions that served as their dwelling, their lifework is outstanding.
The example above, for all the pretty freakish aspects to it, perfectly capable of scaring the bejeezus out of the most intrepid garden spider, Continue reading

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)
__________
Read Also:
* We’re Not Alone
* Lies & Weight
* The Long Good Friday

 

Continue reading

Vice to Meat Ya

Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil

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

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

Split Ends

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

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

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

Continue reading

Dead Can Dance

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

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

Continue reading

Petty Crimes

t seems like it was just yesterday. 2012, as a matter of fact, when all our concerns were about a bullying culture taking over the Internet. Hardly we knew that four years later, we’d elect a major offender to the White House too. Or should we have expected that to happen?
Not to engage in self-flagellation any more that’s already due, at least to some of us, here’s an old post to evoke a bygone era when it was still possible to believe we were going to get better, and trolls and conspiracy nuts would hit their expiration date soon enough.
For it’s actually a hopeful article, and brief too, let us add, lest not let any dragging feelings of defeat cloud our already sore horizon. But we did get to a dangerous point when it seems impossible to get any worse and, at the same time, perfectly natural if it really does.
For on the first anniversary of Trumpism, things look so bleak that many of us will do the only thing that still brings relief to the overall doom proceedings: we’ll be screaming out loud tonight, at the nearest public place and along a crowd of dissatisfied customers like us. We do hope someday you won’t need to join us but for now, all are invited.

When the Rude, the Offensive & the
Inconsiderate Get to Pay Their Dues

Now for something completely different. For many a poor old devil, there’s been a thousand times plus one, when happiness has stood farther apart than ever, just because some idiot was blocking the way. More often than not, help was not forthcoming, and the troll won.
That’s not what’s these stories are about. Have you been annoyed lately by talkers at the movies? people who curse right in front of your little niece? neighbors worshiping loudly on the front yard? Good news: people in England, Belgium and the U.S. have just had about enough.
Even if these effective techniques involve a measure of confrontation, or the ever so slow work of the legislator, none is violent or unreasonable. They’re all solidly based on the democratic tenet that my freedom to act like a douche ends when your own stupid stunt starts.
Obviously, we shouldn’t have to be getting to this to placate our torments. On the same token, no one needs to place anonymous rants in some comment stream to vent their frustration. Or worse, getting so self-righteous about it, as to justify blood and dismemberment.
In most cases, we shouldn’t be bothered. When Brazilian bestseller author Paulo Coelho said that ‘if you dissect ‘Ulysses,’ it gives you a tweet,’ he was expressing his opinion, even if most who read James Joyce’s masterpiece couldn’t disagree more. Ultimately, though, his own admission of ignorance may’ve set in motion the erosion of any credibility towards his own self-aggrandizing work.
In others, you may be annoyed, it may be inconvenient, but it’s not hurting you, and it’s bound not to last more than a brief moment in your long, fruitful life. That’s the case of a New Yorker, so thrilled by his own singing abilities, to the point of having an entire subway (more)
______
Read Also
* When Beast Attack
* Teach Your Children Well

Continue reading

Vice to Meat Ya

Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil

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

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

The Hidden Ones

If the Abyss Stares Back,
Better Count Your Fairies

You show up one day, coming from nowhere (stardust, they say). With luck but mostly little success, spend a lifetime learning what’s all about, and then your time is up. You’re done and soon vanished, never to be seen again. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.
No wonder religion’s been around this long. Only a much bigger world, where life, death, and even your ticket to the final destination, are ruled over by powerful invisible beings. Speaking of which, the British are conducting the first Global Fairy Census. It’s about time.
They’re not alone, of course. Coming to think of it, you do try it all on too, if only for size, and avoid complaining too much about it, right? We all have experimented with our own brand of magic thinking, so things don’t look too chaotic. Heard of coincidences?
It’s a brain trick, of course, but we run with it. Even what we see is a representation of the world, not the world itself, but we carry on as if our lives depend on it. They often do. It’s all part of the game, so if you believe in prayer, now it’s a good time to try it too.
Please keep us in your wishes, for we know not how are we supposed to land on the other side, with some semblance of rationality, another gimmick we’ve invented to measure an unmeasurable universe. After all, don’t they play cricket too? But where were we?

SEEING THINGS THAT AREN’T THERE
Oh, yes, variations of pareidolia, our age-developed habit of imagining familiar shapes on random configurations. Bunnies in a cloud? check. Shadows in the closet? check. Spiders on your pillow? check, wait, that’s a real one, run! But enough of big words, and fears.
The very exercising of seeking patterns our brains so painstakingly pursue every day, otherwise known by that household name of a word, apophenia, is part of a desperate aim at making sense of a merciless world. By the way, no more fancy words for you.
To understand reality, we’ve created complexity and complicated everything in the process. Take science: it still can’t explain most natural phenomena, but we learn wonders with it. Mostly useless, one’d argue, but still. We know a lot about gravity, for instance.
Or do we? Take California’s San Andreas Fault, earthquakes, that sort of thing. Just don’t ask when the Big One will strike. Or why some Nevada rocks atop each other haven’t been toppled since well, ever. It all comes down with a slight temblor, says gravity. Not us, say those rocks.
ELVES & GNOMES WITH AN ATTITUDE
Gravity has nothing on Iceland‘s elves either. In fact, when it comes to their fairies, and Australian gnomes, the universe’s fourth (more)
_______
Read Also:
* Warped Worlds
* Neverlands
Continue reading

Silly Males

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

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

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

Murder & Unkindness

Nevermore, or When the Corvus
Talked Through Poe & His Poem

Emissaries of rebirth from the great beyond, or omens of bad things to come in ancient traditions, crows have soared over our imaginations for ages. Scientists are baffled by their social skills, cognitive abilities, and use of tools. Old Aesop may have been onto something after all.
As January 19th marks Edgar Allan Poe’s 206th birthday, and The Raven’s first print 170 years ago this month, we review research being done about the black bird that feasts on carrion and whose collective nouns convey the finality of sudden death and sorrow of lost souls.
Before Claude Lévi-Strauss called the raven a mediator, antiquity took care of inscribing the winged creature into an assortment of narratives and roles, including it in all holy books, from the Talmud to the Bible to the Qur’an, Greek-Roman mythologies and Hindu cosmology.
Old Germanic and English texts also assigned the species a prominent role, and so did Pacific tribes and Native Americans. Which may confer oversized meaning to their annual winter arrival at Waterloo, England, for example, or instances of mass deaths, as it just happened in India.
But before going any further, let’s get the distinction between crows and ravens out of the way. Crows are smaller and live only eight years, to raven’s average 30-year lifespan. Crows, which caw-caw, also live closer to humans; ravens’ croaks are heard mostly in the wild.
A crow’s wing is blunt, and its tail, fan-shaped, while ravens have pointed wings and wedge-shaped tails. All else may not be easily noted because the birds are commonly sighted in parks and cemeteries, where people go to fulfill a function or when they’re, well, dead.

WHO IS BIRD-BRAINED NOW?
We should all be weary of studies comparing the intelligence of radically different species, say primates vs. cetacean, for instance. Mainly because for a long time, we’ve considered cognitive intelligence and social skills to be our monopoly and of a few other animals only.
Also, we still don’t know enough Continue reading

The Aitch-Old File

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

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

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

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

The 2,000 Year Old


A Wife & Christianity as a Hoax,
Highlights of the Year in Jesus

Off-the-beaten-path news about Jesus are hard to come by. But there’s been at least a couple in the past year, that in the unlikely event of being proven true, could shake the very foundations of his church and recast the entire religion built after his death.
Since it’s that time of the year again, whether you like it or not, to rehash stories about his official birthday today, why not retell instead those odd tales, about a supposed wife and Christianity as a possible hoax, along with a few others not easily dismissed.

Before getting into those two highly spicy arguments, which despite having been given short shrift by religious scholars, had their share of intriguing historical research to back them up, let’s do some housekeeping about four other interesting news about the carpenter of Nazareth.
The latest one is the Naked Jesus discussion (we tried to warn you). Just a few months into his papacy and the Franciscan Pope Francis’s inkling for restoring the church’s empathy for the poor has ignited all sorts of disconcerting ideas about religion and, grasp, Christ’s sexuality.
Invoking art scholar Leo Steinberg’s research into the pictorial representation of JC in Renaissance paintings, a recent Lee Siegel story frames the pope’s open attitude towards gays and the dispossessed within the Franciscan order’s very own credo, ‘follow naked the naked Christ.’
Like the Renaissance masters, to present the naked body of Jesus was the proper way to express his own humanity and contempt for material goods. His nudity, thus, was to be perceived as more authentic and pure than the copious and expensive paraments worn by church bishops, priests and officials.

TOMB & CRUCIFIXION
It’s an idea that has been dormant, and socially all but absent, from religion as we know it, as the Vatican, for instance, is closer to a powerful political organization than whatever Jesus’s followers had in mind. And sexuality remains a taboo as it was during the Inquisition.
Comparatively, research into the historical figure and places he may have inhabited have advanced at a more pragmatic pace, albeit most of Continue reading

The Flours of Evil

Edible Treats for
Phony Cannibals

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

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

Below the Equator

Sexing for the Rainforest & Saharan
Sands Sweeping Over South America

There is no sin on the low side of the equator. The loosely translated sentence is from a 1970s Brazilian song that plays with preconceived notions about South America being a paradise of promiscuity, exoticism and wild animals. It should have said Norway instead.
That’s where a troupe devised a novel way to support the Rainforest: having sex for it. As this peculiar notion penetrates the deep cavity of your brain, let’s add another piece of the puzzle: every summer, a Sahara dust cloud comes to visit the continent’s shores.
There’s obviously no connection between the two facts, except that they both relate to that massive tropical land, where Americans speak Portuguese and Spanish, and little English, and that seems at times to offer an odd counterpart to its big brother in the North.
Again, let’s make yet another detour. One of the pleasures of writing a blog is to set oneself challenges in order to tell stories that one hopes, can’t be found anywhere else. How we’re going to find a common sense between these two strands of narrative is today’s quest. You’ll be the judge as to whether we’ll manage it.
We keep collecting stories in a dusty file, any of which could strike our fancy and serve us well as a springboard to talk about our favorite themes. You know, life, the universe, and all the fish, issues we hardly know anything about and shouldn’t even be allowed to tackle. But why make it easy to ourselves?
We could always offer our absolutely worthless take on the Brazilian government’s new homegrown email system, an attempt to ward off spying from the NSA, Canada, everyone and their mothers-in-law, which according to recent files leaked by Edward Snowden, has been rampant for years. The spying, not the mothers. Or have they too?
We could also add our two cents to the apparent Latin American trend of digging up dead people. Nothing to top a good Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s story, for the record. But if it means to understand the Continue reading

Land Specks

Pop Up Isles, Sinking Atolls &
Havens for Snakes, Cats & Spiders

An unforeseen consequence of rising sea levels is that it puts a dump on that idyllic idea of retiring to a tropical island. Somehow the thought of waking up at its highest peak, with just enough time to hold your breath doesn’t have the same ring that it once had.
It’s a silly dream anyway. So when a 7.7 earthquake shook Pakistan last week, leaving over 500 dead and thousands homeless, in a nation already periodically visited by tragedy, only a heartless optimist would see the birth of a new island as a silver lining of sorts.
And yet, there it is, a 100 feet by 250 feet speck that’s now dotting the Arabian Sea. A rough, cracked piece of the ocean floor, pushed up by methane to 60 feet up above water. Almost like a natural monument and tribute for those who had to go for it to rise up so violently.
As you probably gathered by now, that’s our theme for this evening: islands, those mysterious orphans of continental drifts, giants underwater, tall enough to reach high above the waves, and yet frightfully tiny, once at the surface, always at ready to be swallowed by the vastness around.
They’ve been a surprising copious leit motif at Colltales, having graced these pages half a dozen times in less than three years. Perhaps its their endless diversity, or often violent origins, what pulls us towards them. Or that they can be placid and inhabited only by bugs Continue reading

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 feats of thought are expressed, and divine flavors often pay visits, it’s 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 the 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 to people 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 after such carnal feasts, 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 cautiously feel good about research that points to a bacteria that may have been making people fat all along, and we didn’t even know it.

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 before its release, many still think he’d also come up with the original concept.
Other variations of the same theme came up too, both as movies and Continue reading

Not Food

Think Things Don’t Change?
Try a 14-Year Old McDonald’s

Not many corporations convey so well both the state of the economy and our social mores as McDonald’s, the world’s former biggest restaurant chain. And for its product’s poor nutritional value and the environmental impact of its business practices, it’s doing just fine.
Or so it seems. For news about a 1999 burger looking eerily ‘fresh,’ and of a CEO making $8.75 million, while the average patty-flipper earns $8.25 a hour, were both received with jaded nonchalance. No wonder an artist made a life size mummy out of McDonalds.
It’d be stupid to blame solely the economy on the company’s success. Granted, its origins are in fact linked to the Great Depression, and it’s no wonder that now, during such an extended reenactment of those empty pocket years, it remains the compulsory choice for those who can’t afford to embrace the organic, cage-free craze of the era.
It may also be the power of its muscular business model, the 1980s expansionary pull through emerging economies, what may have guaranteed its staying appeal. Such aggressive strategy made possible for McDonald’s to become more popular (read, cheaper) than Indian food in India, for instance.

But who can deny that other element that the most American of all corporations possesses, to which only a overused and detested word can be applied: iconic. The red and yellow colors, the rings, and that obnoxious clown are so infused in urban culture, that artists such as Andy Warhol had no choice but to incorporate it into their work.
As for those who see signs of hope, since McDonald’s no longer the world’s No. 1 food chain, let’s keep things in perspective. Researchers Continue reading

Safe Arbor Clauses

Three About Trees &
a 5,000 Year Old Truck

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

Women’s Day

Some Progress on Paper, But Old
Battles Still Need to Be Won Again

Past the first century by four years, the International Women’s Day continues to serve as lamppost to reassess and reaffirm its principles of equality, freedom, and all that. But unless we’re mistaken, we seem to be fighting one too many battles we thought had already be fought.
While the U.S. has renewed the long overdue Violence Against Women Act, both inside it and abroad there’s been no shortage of examples of ingrained prejudice and despicable acts against mothers, wives and daughters. But rejoice: there’s also Malala Yousufzai’s life to celebrate.
It’s been that kind of year. For a few achievements and heroic acts of note, it also brought back a whole struggle,needed to prevent a turning back the clock on women, their reproductive rights, access to education, safety to raise their families, and dignity as human beings. And somehow we wish such reality was not only conditioned to the U.S.
For perhaps not surprisingly, the past 12 months marked a reinforced charge by the Catholic church, through its minions in congress and elsewhere, to restrict even more the inalienable right of a woman to make choices concerning her own body, through a well-heeled campaign of terror and intimidation.
One’d think the church would have been busy coming clean out of the horrific accounts of child abuse in its midst, while restating its self-appointed spiritual mandate, opening its doors to the sex minorities it’s been rejecting for centuries, to the poor, and to those still seeking some kind of emotional rescue. But it’s been far from it.
Through much of the year, religion-affiliated colleges, and health institutions have formed an united front against women, in an attempt to undermine a few decades of improvement in public health that the women’s movement managed to bring to the whole of society. It’s been Continue reading

Valentine Way

When the Affair Is Over &
the Blues Hurt Your Heart

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

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

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

Read Also:
* Buzz Off
* Embraceable Hearts
* Broken Hearts
* Before & After

In Their Own Rites

Brides, Babies, the
Dead & Your Ex-Lovers

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

License & Registration, Please

One Man Lost His Memory.
Another, Auctioned His Name

This post is about two people, but it could also be about the same person. One man woke up one day and didn’t know who he was; the other, thought of making a buck out of his own name. In the end, what identifies us may be somewhere between these two extremes.
‘Benjaman Kyle,’ found unconscious next to a dumpster in 2004, still doesn’t remember anything about his previous life, and is desperately seeking a new identity. Jason Sadler, who’s either broke or bored with his own life, decided to auction his name to the highest bidder.
The hospital to where Kyle was taken had run out of ‘John Does,’ so his rescuers did the sensible thing: they named him after the joint he was, until he got knocked out by reasons unknown. Sadler, who has a knack for ingenious schemes, in just a few days, will be called HeadsetsDot.com.
You could say that it’s a classical tale of wanting what you can’t have, and selling what you’ve got for free. While Kyle’s story has its share of poignancy, a grown-up American with no recognizable ID, Sadler’s tale is more in tune with these pragmatic, hold-no-barriers times.

THE MAN WITH NO NAME
Despite eight full years, no one has come forward to identify the enigma of Richmond Hill, Georgia. But he did attract attention of at least two people, Miguel Endara, who’s drawn an exquisite portrait of Continue reading

The Daily Planet

Superman Joins Spidey
in the Unemployment Row

The biggest villain any superhero worth his or her cape has to contend with is boredom. So writers who maintain their alt-world keep topping themselves with ways to sustain their relevance in such unfazed times. Often, their realm comes close to bursting into our sad sack of reality.
What just happened to Clark Kent is typical. With the doom and gloom surrounding the print industry’s outlook, even the most unflappable reporter has to adapt. So he’s quitting his newspaper job and becoming, of all things, a blogger. Like we need any more competition.
He probably has a better shot at succeed than poor Peter Parker, who lost his own job at the Daily Bugle two years ago and recently got evicted from his landmark address in Queens and moved to Brooklyn. Yeah, right. Have you seen how much rents cost in Williamsburg lately?
Right there, it’s a sign we’re talking about fiction: in our unglamorous but inescapable day to day life, chances are, the next stop after Queens would be Newark, or Hackensack, New Jersey. But at least in Brooklyn, Spider-Man will be closer to the Superhero Supply Shop, the newest depot for all things hero in the city.
For the record, the two legends share an elaborated costume, a will to do good, and not much else. Superman was born in the throes of WWII and the A-bomb, a break-neck solution for the terrifying prospects of that time. Spidey, on the other hand, is the offspring of the more cynical and self-deprecating 1960s.
Clark Kent’s alter ego has been nothing but an intoxicating but soothing mix of naivete and power, always at the ready to help the little guy. Apparently, after a stint as a patriot and champion of the ‘American Way,’ he’s now back at being just your regular, faster-than-a-bullet, Continue reading

Split Ends

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

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

Petty Crimes

When the Rude, the Offensive & the
Inconsiderate Must Pay Their Dues

Now for something completely different. For many a poor old devil, there’s been a thousand times plus one, when happiness has stood farther apart than ever, just because some idiot was blocking the way. More often than not, help was not forthcoming, and the troll won.
That’s not what’s these stories are about. Have you been annoyed lately by talkers at the movies? people who curse right in front of your little niece? neighbors worshiping loudly on the front yard? Good news: people in England, Belgium and the U.S. have just had about enough.
Even if these effective techniques involve a certain level of confrontation, or the ever so slow work of the legislator, none is violent or unreasonable. They’re all solidly based on the democratic tenet that my freedom to act like a douche ends when your own stupid stunt starts.
Obviously, we shouldn’t have to be getting to this to placate our torments. On the same token, though, no one needs to place anonymous rants in some comment stream to vent their frustration. Or worse, getting so self-righteous about it, as to justify blood and dismemberment.
In most cases, we shouldn’t be bothered. When Brazilian bestseller author Paulo Coelho said that ‘if you dissect ‘Ulysses,’ it gives you a tweet,’ he was expressing his opinion, even if most who read James Joyce’s masterpiece couldn’t disagree more. Ultimately, though, his own admission of ignorance may’ve set in motion the erosion of any credibility towards his own self-aggrandizing work.
In others, you may be annoyed, it may be inconvenient, but it’s not hurting you, and it’s bound not to last more than a brief moment in your long, fruitful life. That’s the case of a New Yorker, so thrilled by his own singing abilities, to the point of having an entire subway Continue reading

Bag of Pardons

Hiding the Poor While
Laying the Red Carpet

The Jiangxi province, in Nanchang, China, came up with a novel way to prevent beggars from bothering those attending a religious festival: it built metal cages to house them for the duration of the event. For the poor, it was either that, or literally get out of town.
It was a particularly crude display of business expediency by local officials. But China’s has shown before that it places a higher premium on its global image than on its underclass. That’s why poverty was nowhere to be seen during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
Of course, pious souls of all stripes chimed in, bless their hearts, calling the Jiangxi’s initiative barbaric, akin to the promotion of a human zoo. But, abstracted the blatant insensitivity, the action seems in line with the general trend, in Western societies too, to regard the poor as lepers used to be, hidden and as far away as possible.
It’s happening again in Spain and Greece and throughout Europe: despite the failure of the ‘austerity to everyone but us’ policies, officials and politicians continue to prescribe it. Unemployment and economic stagnation remain rampant, sowing misery and massive disruption of Continue reading

Spooky Rites

Dining, Dancing & Moving
In Right Next to the Dead

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

(Not) Nice to Meat You

Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil

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