The Arrow Has Flown


David Bowie’s Last
Surprise Is His Saddest

Here’s a mutation we never wanted him to undergo. And it had to be from the very top, again, which he reached over and over again, each time a different character, every time a step closer to greatness.
Now he did it: David Bowie passed away just a few days after his 69th birthday, a few days after releasing Blackstar, his last album and arguably one of his strangest, if that’s even possible.
We got so used to be startled by him that it’ll be hard to settle on his final bow. But now that his trip is done, we may finally get it, and in the process, learn something more about our own.
You gave enough to the world, including the arrest of your final twist. Years will go by and we’ll still be deciphering the wonder of your trajectory. We’re now keepers of your music and your art.
Rest in peace, David.
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Read Also:
* A Bow to Bowie

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Golden Balls

An Award Ceremony to
Mask FIFA’s Horror Show

No offense to Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar, top contenders to this year’s Ballon d’Or award – and arguably three of the greatest footballers ever – but Monday’s ceremony in Zürich may not be all about rewarding the deserving and honoring the honorable.
Not that we should expect any mention of FIFA’s annus horribilis (and we’re not getting anywhere near that stinky pun either). After all, this is the time to pay homage to these players’ artistry, and whoever wins has proven their worth on the pitch.
It’s just that such artistry, talent, and exuberance, shown throughout an ever more demanding, year-round season, are in stark contrast to the staggering catalog of behind-closed-doors misdeeds FIFA officials have perpetrated on their account.
As of now, former president Sepp Blatter, and the ex-head of UEFA, its European arm, Michel Platini, continue fighting their 8-year ban from the sport, and a stretching number of officials, in many countries, face criminal charges.
It’s also emblematic that the corruption dragnet has caught both Platini, who’s all but squandered his past as a great player, and (more)
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Read Also:
* Frozen in Time
* Trick or Truce?
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)
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Read Also:
* Warped Worlds
* Neverlands
Continue reading

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

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

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