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)
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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)
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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)
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Silly Males

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

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