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

Advertisements

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

Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

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

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Foods for Survival

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

Gotham Suit

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

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

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

Brick By Brick

The Wall Came Down 25 Years
Ago But Others Remain Defiant

It was a typical public jubilation moment: thousands of happy people, front cover news around the world, an event of political resonance (and appropriation too) and catharsis like few. It happened a generation ago: on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall finally came down.
But just as other similar, long overdue moments have been before it and since, when the symbolic end of the Cold War arrived, it was swift, pregnant with hope, and just as quickly, deeply dissatisfying. A quarter of a century later, we’re bound to question even its relevance.
It didn’t even end the détente, that unbearably nervous post-war time between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that for years paralyzed the world with fear. We now can see it for what it was: just a pro-forma liberation hour, coming late to rubber-stamp its own obsolescence.
But it was a jubilation all the same. Those who endured 28 years of that cruel scar, splitting heart and country in the middle, surely deserved to celebrate it all with gusto. Before long, however, it all wound up in a museum.
Sunday will culminate a week long commemoration, and images of mostly young people climbing crumbling logs of concrete, and a few survivor old timers too, crying like happy babies, will make the headlines. Not as breaking news, though; but as a cultural landmark.
We’ll take it anyway, of course. Times have been hard on reasons to be cheerful, and saturated with the kind of heartbreak that built the wall in the first place. So, heaven forbid if we let such an occasion to be merry pass, and, by all means, let’s have a worldwide party.

KEEPING THEM PEOPLE OUTSIDE
For 20th century standards, the fall of the Berlin Wall was an unbeatable icon of optimism and hope in the future. Some would argue that bottled down anger Continue reading

Red Shift

One-Way Ticket to Ride
From Earth to Her Twin

One thing about the planned one-ticket, privately-financed, volunteer-driven trip to Mars is that, for the first time in history, someone will actually be dead for all effect and purposes, and still in contact, albeit limited, with the living.
That’s right: the willing crew for this journey to the nonreturnable will cease to legally exist on Earth and be as physically unavailable to us as the departed. And yet, still capable of holding a conversation with those they’ve left behind.
Of course, this can’t be the calling card for such an enterprise, which will rest on a lot of showmanship and just plain convincing to attract the kind of hardy human being willing to undertake it. On the contrary, to call it a trip to death would immediately kill the hard on of every science aficionado, who’s been dreaming about getting to Mars since they were born.
It’s only fitting that such a proposition is not the least attractive to the touristic inclined. Part of the allure of traveling to faraway places is the promise of returning and flooring everyone you know with enviable tales that will forever separate you, who’ve gone somewhere, from them, who’ve remained behind.
For the record, such adventurers (almost 80,000 candidates at last count) are applying to visit an Earth-wanna be, the red twin of our blue planet who, just as a problematic sibling, simply wasn’t successful at some critical stage, and whose evolutionary arc went terribly wrong at some point.
While Mars failed at developing the ability of harboring life, at least as we know it, fell behind and it’s now a giant inhospitable desertic rock, Earth is still thriving. Which is sort of ironic, because our own piece of rock could use some solitude and even a bit less of the human imprint, if it’s to survive in the long run, but that’s another story.
So the one-way trippers striving to live and perish in a lifeless landscape, would also enter the realm of the deceased, but with the extra plus of being able to communicate with this world, something that has eluded the dead since, well, the beginning of time, psychics notwithstanding.

THE DNA OF DAREDEVILS
There will be other pluses, to be sure, and for the adventure-bent, this is what the expression ‘thrill of a lifetime’ was designed to convey, despite being now sadly equated to cliche and hyperbole. Just don’t include on that the dietary rigors and small indignities they’ll have to endure just to keep up with the basic needs of their humanity. Enough said there.
It’ll also be, by far, the most dangerous journey ever attempted by an earthling, who may not even get to Mars alive, as the lethal effects of Continue reading

Curb Your God

As Religion Tightens Grip on the
Military, Americans Grow Agnostic

Religious fundamentalism is on the rise within the U.S. armed forces, a recent paper argues, with support of high-ranked officers. The issue has concerned defenders of the constitutional separation of church and state, given the military’s sway over the government.
It also goes against the trend observed in the American society at large, which indicates that a greater than ever percentage of the population now considers themselves non-religiously affiliated. At least, 46 million Americans told that much to a Pew research study.
The discrepancy can be added to the overall disconnect between the military community, which in over a decade has been thrown into two unpopular, and vicious, conflicts, and the rest of the American society, which seems oblivious to it. It’s unclear, though, whether this tug of war benefits either side.
The truth is, as the Pentagon reinforces its grab of a huge percentage of the U.S. budget, and resists attempts at accountability and change, it also grows apart from the mainstream of U.S. society, more concerned about income disparity, unemployment, hunger, and social inequality.
On the other hand, the rise of religious fanaticism and so-called messianic faiths has been linked around the world to deterioration of social conditions, impoverishment and its consequent gearing off education-based knowledge to ‘magical’ thinking, and the literal teachings of the bible.
No wonder during the campaign to the U.S. Presidency, Republican candidates have tried to outdo each other in blaming higher education for the lack of ‘fundamental values,’ which may be roughly translated into repeating dogmas about the natural world first formulated over 2,000 years ago.
That an institution that has been waging an expensive set of wars with such a low approval and understanding from the general public has also been accused of discriminating against sex minorities, and turning a blind eye to its widespread culture of rape and violence against women, is only another expected component of such a toxic mix.
But the fact that that same public, not quite cognitive to the interplay between military spending and depletion of social programs, has been increasingly turned off by the church’s policies towards those so-called sex minorities, should be actually considered a sign of evolution. And Continue reading