Final Cut

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

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

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

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

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

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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)
________
Read Also:
* Frozen in Time
* Trick or Truce?
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Texting George Kaplan


Highly Successful Habits
of Purely Made Up People

Most of us spend a lifetime struggling to be successful in at least one thing. The writer of this post, for example, after failing in almost everything he’s tried his clumsy hand at, has settled his sights on the promising world of accomplishments only a few dare to pursue.
The last we heard, he’s not doing too well. Apparently, turning off the light switch and landing on a bed before the room goes completely dark has its hazards. It seemed so simple, he told us, when Muhammad Ali revealed to a reporter that it was one of his nightly rituals.
As we talk, our humble scrivener still has at least a few hundred nights to get it done, before every bone of his body is fractured. We’ll keep you posted on that one. Now, where were we? Oh, that’s right, about lifetime achievements, or the lack of them. 
There are those who seem perfectly suited at imprinting their legacy on history books. Others go beyond that, and do it more than once. But none beats the kind of person that, besides all that, also manages to not exist at all. In fact, history records several of these characters.
Take George P. Burdell, for example, after whom the Georgia Institute of Technology named its Student Center after. According to the record, Burdell not just graduated from Georgia Tech, but flew 12 missions over Europe during World War II, served on MAD magazine’s Board of Directors for a dozen years, and in 2001 was almost named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year after garnering 57 percent of online votes. Not even Mozart worked this hard.
Despite his expected old age, he’s kept up with the new world and in touch with his over 4,000 Facebook “friends.” The only thing is, he doesn’t exist. Much less distinctive-named Ed Smith created him in 1927 by enrolling them both for a laugh at Georgia Tech. With Smith’s behind the scenes help, Burdell’s life took off on its own and thrived, as he become one of the institute’s most distinguished legends.

FAKE ARTISTS & SKITTISH CELEBRITIES
There’s also Nat Tate, a fictional artist whose life existed only in the imagination of Scottish novelist William Boyd. All it took him was to publish a book on Tate in 1998 as a biography and keep a straight face. His hoax got some mileage from friends Gore Vidal and David Bowie, all in the joke.
The gullible art intelligentsia of the time adopted and praised the unknown “artist,” until Boyd got tired of it Continue reading

Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees

The Unbearable Silence of
Disappearing Pollinators

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

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

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

The Third Rock

Why on Earth Would This
Planet Need Only One Day?

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

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

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

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

Mad Beverages

Gatorade With Flame Retardant
& the Brew From Christmas Trees

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

The Whale Report

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

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

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

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

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

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Curtain Raiser

The Climate Alarm Went Off, Colltalers

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

Three to Get Ready

Through Changing Times, Occupy
Wall Street Remains on Message

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

Curtain Raiser

The Plastic Oh, No, Band, Colltalers

‘I just want to say one word to you. Just one word… Are you listening? Plastics.’ That was the career advice offered to Benjamin Braddock, in the 1967 movie The Graduate. If the word was just a joke then, almost 50 years later, it now defines our way of life and may point to our demise.
Its presence permeates almost everything considered essential to our living in this planet, plastic may also choke to death its lifeline, the oceans. Everyday, millions of discarded pieces of it reach the world’s waterways and join what’s an already incalculable amount of floating garbage.
In fact, in this past half century, we’ve seen how insidious plastic clogging the world oceans has become: it has been found everywhere, from vast extensions, forming giant invisible islands of flotsam, to deep under the Arctic seas, and out of dead seabirds’ bursted open stomachs full of it.
As part of our daily life, it’s also all over: in the computer where this post is being composed to cellphones, medicine bottles, to product packaging, food containers, to throwaway utensils. It’s almost discouraging to realize how hard it’d be for us do dig ourselves out of this lifestyle hole.
But perhaps not all is lost. Two of the more ominous of its uses may represent both a way out and a method to wean ourselves from such pervasive product: plastic bags and bottles. They both encapsulate extremes of our societal behavior and offer interesting metaphors to our way of living.
Take bags, for instance, banned this past week in California, which may be one of the most important steps taken against plastic pollution since recycling rules have been instituted in the U.S. A positive sign, indeed, that should ignite a chain reaction and lead to a nationwide ban.
Created solely out of convenience, these bags are utterly replaceable, and yet, have a level of adherence in all walks of life that would baffle social scientists searching for common habits shared by all classes. It’s, however, one of the most environment-damaging habits we could possibly partake.
So a ban, as it’s being pursued in New York and other states, and following some European countries, would represent a big step towards controlling ocean pollution, where they inevitably wind up, after decades in landfills. Would a ban also instill a reflexion on our shopping obsessions? Nah.
The other ominous use of polymers is even more ridden with the contradictions of our very own highfalutin approach to a natural lifestyle: bottles. Drinking bottled water became one the most terrible by-products of the ‘living healthy’ movement, one that added millions of tons of plastic to our already Continue reading

Photo Retouch

Photographer Known For Essay
on Albino Family Dies in Brazil

The plane crash that killed Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos this week threw the country’s succession of President, and still front runner, Dilma Rousseff, into grief and turmoil. But it also may help us correct an injustice of sorts, in a completely unexpected way.
Along with Campos, eight other people also died: the two co-pilots, two political aides, a cameraman, and a photographer, Alexandre Severo, well known in Brazil for an essay on a rare multiracial family that counts both black and albino kids among its members.
As it turns out, Colltales had published a post on albinos last year, and included a photo of the Fernandes de Andrade family, taken by Severo. Except that his name was not mentioned on the credit of the picture, only Reuters’, its license holder, which is correct but incomplete.
Severo, 36, had already an established career when he portrayed the unique group in 2009, black mother Rosemere, and her two black and three albinos kids, all from Severo’s homestate city of Olinda, Pernambuco. Chances for that to happen: one in a million.
Actually, to prevent yet another correction, let’s say that those odds are estimates; we don’t have scientific data to support such claim. Nevertheless, there’s no need to estimate the challenges for such a poor group of Brazilians for it’s downright hard to even fathom what they go through every day.
As far as we know, the five are doing fine, but again, we have no data to back that up. So we hope, just like albinos do, that they are, and that health issues don’t get in their way to a fulfilling life. Also, that we all come to understand their condition and, more importantly, that our prejudices don’t hamper their right to be loved and respected.
That was the point of our story, anyway. But not of this one. For this is a due correction that we needed to make, and a sign that Severo’s work will outlive him and honor his legacy. In his short life, he managed to link his name to a theme of love and racial equality, almost as rare today as the genetic mutation that triggers albinism.
Tip of the hat to you, brother.
_______
Read Also:
* The Hunted

Cold Cups II

The Fan Who Sold His Honor & the
World Cup Coach Who Can’t Drive

Even if Fifa were a model of probity, which recent allegations have shown it clearly is not, or street rallies against its costs had cooled off with the start of the games, which they haven’t, the World Cup in Brazil has already provided a whole plethora of political drama.
From the multicultural bleachers to the quarrels over refereeing, from the quality of the grass drainage to antiaircraft artillery on civilian buildings, matches and goals have been thrilling, for sure, but what’s going on beyond the pitch may as well upstage it all.
As Brazilians protest the money bacchanal, brokered by Fifa and funded by its mega sponsors, and the competition heats up with record goals and relatively few surprises so far, one wonders whether there’s even space on the coverage for anything else. As it turns out, we make room for just that sort of thing.
For appalling mistakes committed by field officials are as much a part of the game as its players’ cheap theatrics, and with all certainty, will remain the theme of late night, heated discussions over tears and beers for years to come. It’s what’s not so obvious, though, that we’re most interested.
Thus, while that Barcelona star may be executing a perfect curvy free kick, out of sight and in the middle of a sea of multicolored tribute jerseys, someone may be giving a whole country a black eye, or a sympathetic one, by just flicking their wrist. At times, cameras may capture the moment but mostly, they may miss it.
And, just as life itself, the so called ‘teaching moments’ go beyond the walls of these temples of football, or through another march against high ticket prices on a street nearby. World Cup-related news, not so breaking but weird just the same, may be happening right across from the stadium, atop some apartment building.
The reach of this tournament may have a surprising sway both at the confluence of sports and morality, and as far as some court decision across the ocean. Coming July 13, regardless of who’ll lift the trophy, we’ll have gone through a common experience of such a planetary scale that each of these stories may count as much as the goals scored.
And you may thank your lucky shirts for we’re skipping altogether anything about the tragic Nigeria blast, that killed several people (in a replay of Uganda four years ago, remember?) or the Mexican drugpin who got nabbed by the Feds after he bought a ticket to the World Cup… on his own name. Smart.

GREED & CIVILITY AT THE STANDS
Speaking of most Brazilians, they may be fighting the good fight against corruption, but apparently José Humberto Martins is yet to get the memo. Last week in Natal, he was one of the thousands wearing a plastic poncho during the rain soaked Mexico vs. Cameroon game.
According to his own account, at some point, he was approached by a drenched tourist who offered to buy his cheap garment, unaware it was on sale for $14 elsewhere at the stadium. Not one to let the chance to make a buck pass, torrential pouring notwithstanding, José agreed to sell it on the spot: for $200!
The good name of soccer fans everywhere was rescued from the mud the following day, though, Continue reading

The Whirled Cup

Five Bullet Points On Brazil

& a Split-Decision to Strike

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

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

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

Crossed Pollinators

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

A number of environmental groups have chosen this Valentine’s Day week to remind everyone in general, and lovers in particular, that the massive disappearance of bees continues on but, as far as we now know, it can still be halted.
Their timing is appropriate. This mostly shopping holiday, treasured by precious few but still feverishly cheered by many, is a major sales day for roses and chocolate, and neither will be around for the taking for too long, if pollinators are to die off.
As a matter of fact, nor will human folk, if Albert Einstein was right in his grim prediction. Whether the quote is apocryphal or not, $30 billion worth of U.S. crops face the catastrophic threat of not surviving many more winters without enough bees to assure their pollination.
If that happens, it wouldn’t be for lack of warnings, just like climate change and the annual extinction of countless flora and fauna species. The ongoing tragedy of bee Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been quickly intensifying, is a result of yet another man-made folly.
To be sure, there’s not one single cause. But what was initially blamed solely into infections caused by the Varroa and Acarapis mites, has now pointed to the conclusion that for many should’ve have been obvious all along: neonicotinoids, a lethal class of pesticides.
Used for years on corn, soy and other crops, they may not kill bees directly, or other insects that are part of the chain of pollination crucial for the survival of any crop, for that matter. But the way they act is just as damaging, entomologists say.

SOMETHING IN THE POLLEN
Between the varroa mite, now considered one of the most contagious insect viruses on the planet, and a profit-busting industry of pesticides, hope for bees is quickly dwindling. If consumers stay quiet, that is. That’s what many environmental organizations are seeking to reverse.
When neonicotinoids began showing up in bee pollen, a team of Continue reading

Amazing Zone

Amazon’s Mind-Altering Tales:
Nazis, Condoms & the Internet

Just on the account of its gargantuan scope and staggering diversity of species, the Amazon Rainforest has inspired some of our most intriguing posts. But today’s three surprising stories may stun even the most seasoned admirer of that grand green extension.
Cue in the Ayahuasca, its ancient hallucinogenic medicine, and suddenly, tales are not about flora and fauna, but in a way, about basic human feelings, such as love, hate, and the pursuit of communication among distant peoples, otherwise known as being online.
Not that deforestation has slowed down by that much. Or that assassinations of local defenders of the forest has subsided, or being punished by law. And since we’re at it, the jungle’s prospects for the future have not become any less forbidding either.
On the other hand, we could, as we’ve done often, highlight some of the amazing lives and works, native communities and positive deeds, that perform daily their mostly ignored task of fighting to preserve if not the whole forest, at least its indomitable spirit, to our grandchildren and their own kids.
It’s just that we can’t resist bringing you something not usually associated with the environment and wild life and indigenous peoples, all worthy causes for discussion and multiple posts, intrinsically connected with the forest. Not today, anyway.
Instead, let’s contextualize these elements alluded to by the headline, as signs that perhaps one can take the civilization out of the forest, and it’d all be just fine. But try to take the forest out of civilization, and one may be left with the bitter sum of its worst vices.
The good thing about it, spoiler alert, is that out of three, two of said elements are somewhat positive, for one may represent an economic force of transformation, and the other, well, it simply failed, and that was an excellent thing. About the Internet, however, the jury’s still out.

MAKING RUBBERS FOR LOVE
Among the many advocates, some already savagely gunned down, and others still soldiering on, despite life threats and the oblivion of society at large, the shadow of Chico Mendes, murdered 25 years ago last month, still deservedly dominates the conversation about preservation of the forest.
Chico, as he was known, was a rubber tapper and union leader, whose life work was involved in creating sustainable means of survival for the people of the jungle. His assassination helped call attention to the plight of many who, like him, had the courage to fight for a shared, positive view of the future.
We mention rubber because Brazil’s experienced two powerful production booms, one in the late 1800s, and then during WWII. But with widespread commercialization of synthetic rubber, produced from petroleum, the boom went bust, and the Amazon never recovered economically.
Still, production of natural rubber from latex continues in a very small scale, thanks in part to Chico’s efforts. Now there’s a small factory 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

Chico Mendes

The Rainforest Man & the
Hands That Dealt His Fate

At 6:45pm, 25 years ago this Sunday, Chico Mendes headed to his backyard to take a shower, in Xapuri, at the heart of Brazil’s Amazon state Acre. As he opened the door, he was shot point blank and met the fate that he’d already been telling everyone it’d be his.
He’d turned 44 a week before, and still envisioned a bright future for the mythical land where he was born, became a community leader, and ultimately fell as the most recognizable face of the forest and its native peoples’ struggle. He also knew who was coming to kill him.
“I always survive,” said a 78-year old man after being run over by a car in nearby Rio Branco just this past Dec. 5. No one would have paid much attention to him, though, if he wasn’t Darly Alves da Silva, found guilty of having ordered the hit on Chico, executed by his son. And that, yes, he’s been free for years now.
He could be referring to the fact that he made it to such an advanced age in a region where life expectancy is officially set at 72 years old. Or for surviving the accident itself. But he could as well be bragging about the botched criminal process that failed to keep him and son in jail for more than half of their 19 years sentence.

DISMANTLING A LEGACY
Chico is gone, although many say his cause continues to thrive. It’s hard to say: according to even the most conservatives stats, deforestation of the Amazon, although diminishing at a steady rate, is still hovering just below 15 thousand square kilometers in annual average, since the time he, unlike Darly, still walked among us.
As with most dead leaders, the growth of his global stature increases as more time passes since his demise, and much of the essence of his struggle tends to be glossed over in favor of a more benign, heroic but virtually impossible to attain, public image. That’s how the system works to undermine those who challenge it.
By sanitizing his accomplishments as a combative labor activist, who dedicated his life not so much to preserve the forest per se but to defend the people who live in it, and who he represented politically, the coverage about the 25 years of his death will be probably dominated by rousing but empty speeches by those who failed him.
For one of the saddest things about Chico’s tragedy was that in Dec. 9, 1988, he named his assassins in an interview to Jornal do Brasil, and even give the reasons Darly and his brother, who was never convicted, would invoke to have a contract on his life. Sad also because the interview wasn’t published until the ill deed was done.

STARING DOWN BULLDOZERS
Despite his serious accusations against them, for being responsible for some 30 killings of rural workers, no action was taken until a global outcry ignited by his death practically forced the Brazilian justice Continue reading

Of Critter, Bug & Beast

Cat Tails, Bees Drinking Turtle
Tears & a Mass Murderer in Class

In a world gone insane, as the late Don LaFontaine would thunder it with gusto, even a little sip of a mad hatter’s tea may taste refreshing. So for those sore minds, tired of swallowing bad news, here comes another zany post about the wonders of alien universes all around us.
Take bugs, for instance. Think you’re familiar with their frightening beauty? Wait till you hear what butterflies do after a particularly ghastly day. Know your furs? Learn what heads and tails entail. Believe us: it’s all way healthier than a monster going to college.
It’s been five years and a month since that famous voice left us in the dark of movie theaters, but few would know it given so many impersonations. LaFontaine, who’d have turned 73 August 26, became arguably the world’s most famous voiceover artist, and his catchy phrase has just been used to name a whole (not too good) picture.
He’s one of the two humans to grace this post, and by the end of it, you may think that he didn’t deserve to be paired with the other one, whose name will be mentioned only once, by force of clarity, and whose survival may explain in part why our world is so twisted, we can’t even make sense of most of what happens around us.
Thus, it’s not quite magical or mysterious why creatures of the non-speaking kind are the ones that seem to carry on with grace and purpose, our creeping fears and disgust notwithstanding, while we loudly drag and splatter our sorry parade of brutality and grief all around, as if this spinning rock were our sole spoil to rape and ransack.
But we can make it better, some say, and we do have the good luck, if not the good sense, of waking up to another day every 24 hours or so. And heaven forbid if we don’t pay our dues to fellow humans whose lives have made ours so much easier. We do know who they are but we’re not about to talk about them here, though.
Now that we weighted down what was supposed to be a light-hearted conversation about the zany side of the news, we may have seriously Continue reading

Scream

A Blast Heard Around the World,
Skies of Blood & New York’s Fate

What an Expressionist masterpiece painted by a Norwegian, the world’s loudest recorded explosion, and New York City’s possible doom may have in common? Not much really, but to think about the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano 130 years ago is a good start.
For while Edvard Munch’s The Scream is the most dramatic depiction of the surreal red sulphur-dioxide skies that covered Europe and circled the world for months after the explosions of Aug. 26, 1883, many wonder what if it’d happen again today.
That’s when that scenario of destruction comes to play, in a way that would shame all those nightmarish visions Hollywood has been concocting for years about the NYC, with room to add terrifying touches of real life tragedies, such as the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Asia.
Before going any further, a bit of a disclaimer of sorts, for we’re fully aware of the tendency of New Yorkers to think themselves as the center of the world, and imagine that there’s always a conspiracy apace against this fair city. But guess what, sometimes they’re right.
Also, we’re far from giving shelter to tabloid doomsday scenarios, for the sake of advancing our unique and highly personal view that, yes, we’re all going to die, and despite our laborious efforts, constructing a pseudo-safe reality to prepare us for the inevitable won’t help us.
We may also need to add that we do resent the fact that New York is always the stand in, and scapegoat, for evil, when it comes to the undying desire of movie execs to make another buck on our account. Like, just blow up the statue (and the box office proceeds), and we’ll be fine. You know who you are.
With that out of the way, let’s now revisit that terrible day in Java and Sumatra, brewed for months prior, then jump to a decade later, when a gifted artist’s visions exploded out of his head and onto the canvas, and then onward to a possible nitty gritty future.

THE RUDE AWAKENING OF A MONSTER
The explosion heard around the world started with a murmur sometime in May of 1883, from the volcano that had been dormant for two centuries. In three months, it built up into a crescendo of small Continue reading

Look Up the Number

When Your Bank ‘Likes’
You as Much as a ‘Friend’

‘Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are.’ From a superficial standpoint, Goethe had no way of knowing that, over two centuries later, his words would still be current, invoked in a story about social networking. After all, a lot has changed since, or has it?
Despite its technological patina, the Internet only enhanced what essentially was already there since our times as chief foragers of the land: our limited ability to extend the web of our meaningful relationships. That even if we consider that our own brain has grown to catch up with our social adaptability needs.
Thus, when the British psychologist Robin Dunbar came up with a number to serve as a parameter of how many people can actually be a factor on our lives, and us on theirs,  he mostly confirmed what many kinds of social interactions were already suggesting, even before his time.
The Dunbar Number, which is 150, by the way, is the average, some would say, limit, number of people we not just know by name, but also share a deeper story or connection with. They do not include your boss, or your bank, the Korean deli worker you chat everyday, or even your drug dealer, if you happen to have one (we won’t tell).
At the same time, among those 150, are the closest members of your family, your truly dearest friends, your childhood partner with whom you set up shop, and maybe the proverbial former lover or two. You may not see or talk with them that often, but if you run into them on the street, chances are, you’ll stop and spend some quality time together.

WHO ARE YOU GOING TO CALL?
Goethe, of course, had something else in mind when he formulated what became one of his most well-known quotes. He was referring to what can be revealed about you just by the company you keep, and boy, isn’t that still so true. Again, we’re not talking about your buddies at the local waterhole, or your lover’s annoying mates.
But if you’d happen to brag about your 500 friends on Facebook, that could give everyone an important hint about the kind of person you really are: first, that you’re a liar calling them friends. Secondly, at least Continue reading

It’s Fly By Us

Spectacular Meteor Blast Over
Russia Steals the Asteroid Show

Something stunning happened while half of the world was sleeping, and a lot of people were waiting today see an asteroid’s close encounter with Earth: another spaceball showed up unexpectedly and exploded over Russia, showering thousands of flaming debris over the frigid land.
So much for the D414 and its rare extreme proximity; it got completely upstaged by a yet to be named heavenly body, smaller but with much better performing skills. Which also managed to injure some one thousand people, cause considerable material damage, all captured on several video recording devices.
As its pictures go viral, fingers will probably be pointed to those who got us all worked out for another underwhelming event, which almost no one watched. Considering the lethal potential that a crash like the one in Russia could’ve had to life on Earth, what was once again displayed was our utter lack of preparation.
But there may be a (burning) silver lining about this blast, as its forensics gets in gear in the months ahead. Besides of including a massive collection of debris over a large swath of inhospitable land, it may likely serve as a testing ground and offer precious clues about its nature, hopefully to the point of helping us get ready for the next.
The fantastic images of the event may also serve as stand in for another event that also happened in Russia, a century and five years ago: the explosion of an object over the gelid forests in the banks of the Tunguska river, which flatten an estimated 80 million trees over an 830 square miles area, according to Wikipedia. Now back to our regular programming.

Burning Rocks
Checking Us Out

Imagine that at some point today, you’d be walking outside and look up, and out of the thin, blue, chilly and beautiful blue sky, an office building would zip fast by you. Picture that it’d be high up but close enough that you could see its windows, and even a set of desks or two.
Now, never mind that it’d be bigger than a plane. You probably wouldn’t be too worry as to whether it’d crash on Earth, because, well, it simply didn’t belong up there, in the first place. But if it were an asteroid instead, that would certainly be your first thought.
We say that because, as it goes, there’s a piece of rock the size of a small building crossing the skies somewhere above the planet, and if conditions were just slightly different, you’d be able not just to spot it but to watch it crash and, yes, it’d probably be the last thing you’d see on this life.
The asteroid, 2012 DA14 will be zooming by us at about five miles per second, which is really fast, and closer to the ground than the satellites that told you about the weather this morning. It won’t hit us, though, NASA says. In fact, you most likely won’t even see it go by.
Still, it’s a considerable piece of rock, 150 feet across, with power to destroy a whole city, if it were to crash over our heads. The impact would create a charred wasteland in every direction to hundreds of miles away from it. Ah, and again yes, it’d probably kill everyone and everything on sight.
Even with NASA’s diminished budget, and an almost universal neglect about the threat these lethal travelers can represent to life on Earth, we’re finding out that Earth’s traveling through a shooting gallery of Continue reading

Evolution, Liberation, Deception

The Doc, the President
& the Quitting Pontiff

Readers of this blog know that we like to pick threes, to group things, to dig for meaning often to unexpected results. Numbers do get our attention, and so due dates, and the time of the day. We also love cats, ice cream, blues, and cryptic clues. Double talk, though, not so much.
Today is the 204th anniversaries of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, which makes Feb. 12 a fortunate day for all of us indeed. We were running with that until out of the dark blue came the startling news that Joseph Ratzinger, a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI, called it quits.
While we were glad to mark the birth of two exceptional minds who inspired billions of lives, the pope’s resignation seems unsettling, since the last time it happened, America wasn’t even around. It couldn’t be a spare of the moment decision, either, but it’s bound to dominate the news.
Darwin, the deeply religious Englishman whose research challenged the very core of Church’s doctrine, has also managed a stunt of his own, recently: he scored 4,000 votes in the last U.S. presidential elections. Despite a still fierce antagonism to his findings, he remains vital by mostly what hasn’t been possible so far: to prove him wrong.
On the other hand, a movie in theaters, and no lack of opportunities for the current White House occupier to emulate his bold decisions, have revitalized Lincoln, the brilliant but doomed American president. In some ways, he’s become a yardstick by which we measure progress in at least matters of race and personal freedom.
The present ruler of a billion-plus Catholics, though, is not only not in the same league, but may be destined to be known as one of the most disappointing popes to have ever worn the white skullcap, the choir dress and, of course, the red shoes. Which makes one wonder about Continue reading

Bones of a King

Royal Skeleton Under Parking Lot
May Force England to Revise its Past

The remains of one of England’s most vilified sovereigns have been positively ID’d as belonging to Richard III, who ruled from 1483 until he was bludgeoned to death in the 1485 Battle of Bosworth. But his particularly gruesome demise wasn’t the last indignity he suffered.
His almost complete skeleton caused an international stir when it was uncovered, buried under a prosaic parking lot in Leicester, and DNA tests only confirmed what many already suspected. Now starts an even more daunting quest: to restore his battered reputation.
It won’t be easy. After all, when he lost his life and crown as the last Plantagenet king, bringing the famed Wars of the Roses to a conclusion, he and his kin were replaced by the Tudors, who dominated and literally rewrote the U.K.’s history to suit their political interests.
Besides history, Richard III had also a circumstantial but powerful foe, to conspire against his legacy: William Shakespeare, who wrote a play with his name that rivals the historical record, and who, according to many, was himself not unfamiliar with the convenience of creating new identities.
Shakespeare helped to consolidate Richard’s image as a cruel and blood-thirsty despot, with a physical deformity to match his sadistic reputation. Left unsaid is the fact that such a well constructed composite would suit well the ruling Tudors’ aim at winning hearts and minds during the bard’s time.
There’s now a big discussion in England on how to go about restoring King Richard’s true place in history, more in synch with our own times Continue reading

Caturday Tails

Holly, Pereque & Orlando,
Who Walked, Fell & Picked

How could a cat walk 200 miles and find her way back home? How many lives are left, after surviving a five-store fall? How much of picking stocks can be assigned to chance? Such were the questions we’ve asked last week, through the tales of three cats.
We’ll never know what drove Holly to spend two months walking back or how she knew what direction to take. Neither can we explain how Pereque fell onto a spiked fence but didn’t have any organ pierced. But if Orlando can beat professional investment wizards, what’s left to us?
Just an excuse to talk about cats, you may say, and who are we to begin arguing to the contrary. Except that it may give us pause to appreciate the mystery of these creatures, going to astonishing lengths to remain loyal to us. As to whether we even deserve such attention, we leave it to you to decide.
THE WALKING HOLLY
What made a four-year-old tortoiseshell, who disappeared in Daytona Beach, last November, to walk to the point of rendering her back paws to a nail-less, raw-flesh pulp, all the way to West Palm Beach, some 200 miles away? As an indoor cat, probabilities can’t even begin to explain it, and yet she made it.
The proof that Holly’s the same cat was an implanted chip, which has been useful for identifying lost pets. (Never mind that, at this point, Continue reading

Blaming Gypsies

As Hungary Picks on Roma,
Racism Rears its Ugly Head

Widespread outrage has erupted in Hungary after an influential politician called the Roma ‘animals.’ That a founding member of the ruling party could be so blatantly intolerant has reawaken fears that the European Union nation’s is slowly sliding into authoritarian rule.
Diverse segments of the population jumped into the Roma’s defense, including the country’s justice minister, and a group representing Jews, who know a thing or two about the switch to dictatorship by a seemingly stable democracy. But for the Roma, it’s all deja vu.
Historically, they’re used to serve as scapegoats every time things don’t go as planned for governments with autocratic inklings. And Hungary of the last 10 years seems to fit the bill, with ever stricter attempts at controlling the press and laws designed to curb individual liberties.
The article by Zsolt Bayer, founding member of the ruling Fidesz party, is so the more hurtful to the Roma, since they’ve been an integral part of Hungary’s ethnicity and culture for over six centuries. After an inconsequential New Year’s Eve bar brawl, allegedly with the involvement of some young Gypsies, Bayer went ballistic.
‘They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals and they behave like animals,’ he wrote on the following Saturday’s edition of the Magyar Hirlap newspaper, a particularly nasty slur against what constitutes seven percent of the country’s 10 million people. Most of them, of course, living in impoverished communities outside big cities.
The World Jewish Congress called on Hungarians to ‘speak out against such manifestations of racism.’ Justice Minister Tibor Navracsics said that there’s no room for anyone ‘who labels a group of people as animals.’ And we’d add, leave the animals out of this too, for in 10,000 years-plus of registered history, there has been not a single case of animal racism reported.
In any event, like the Roma themselves, we’ve all been there before, as Continue reading

Mad Beverages

Gatorade With Flame Retardant
& the Brew From Christmas Trees

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

Sleigh of News

The Pope’s Hate Message, a Misnamed
Disease, & Other Christmas Oddities

It’s a season of joy, of much tra-la-la and all that. But it’s also a time prone to burst into disconcerting news, and we’re not talking about thousands of armed conflicts around the world that don’t even bother celebrating it and taking a break from killing people.
Just like many a regular business, war doesn’t close its doors during Christmas. Neither hate goes on holiday, judging by the pope’s annual message, rallying troops against gay marriage. In other news, though, science has finally diagnosed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Deer, oh dear.
Not to play a heavy hand here, but religion is often a factor at the trigger-happy start of any conflict, but retreats to irrelevance when it comes to demanding it to stop. No wonder a recent survey found out that nonbelievers now form the world’s ‘third-largest religion,’ which is startling oxymoron to begin with.
Somehow, though, people still care, at least enough to steal baby jesuses from nativity scenes all across America. Apparently, there’s an odd increase in reported robberies in 2012, compared to previous years. Religious fervor? Pranksters at play? We can’t say, or pretend, that we care one way or another.
But, as we said before, it is a time for reprieve, which is evidenced in the increase in charity donations, widespread acts of goodwill and a general feeling that yes, ’tis the season. And the Christmas Disease alluded to above, a rare type of hemophilia, is not even named after it, but by Stephen Christmas, a U.K. AIDS activist who died in 1993.

NO ALTAR BOY
That’s why it’s so baffling that the spiritual leader of 2.2 billion people in the world has chosen exactly this time to reach out to other religious chiefs in what can only be called a crusade against homosexuals. According to Benedict XVI, there’s a threat to the family every time a same-sex couple pledges each other eternal love.
Don’t blame us to bring this up, but when Pope John XXIII, for Continue reading

Pocket Dissent

Ai Weiwei’s Notes About
a World That Needs to End

‘You know, if they can do this to me, they can do this to anybody.’ That’s part of one of the most revealing aphorisms of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s latest book, aptly named Weiwei-isms, edited by Larry Warsh and published by the Princeton University Press.
It encapsulates the three main characters inhabiting his quotes: himself, the Chinese government, and everybody else. It also offers a glimpse of the oversized ambitions of this little book: to discuss the state’s exacerbated role on the lives of his fellow citizens.
Its format and fluidity are in fact deceptive, as they mask Ai’s larger proposition as an artist at odds with his country’s idea of society, and with a great many Chinese, who may hardly understand the motivations behind his avowed intention to speak for them.
The quotes, organized in themes such as freedom of expression, art and activism, power and morality, and the digital world, may at times resort to short, staccato-like sentences, just like on Tweeter, a social tool Ai’s mastered and praises in the book.
Others convey his ambivalence about having unwillingly become an international personality. His constant jabs at China’s authoritarian regime often betray bemusement at being singled out by it. His global exposure, thus, is both a bliss and a curse.
A land that rejects the truth, barricades itself against change, and lacks the spirit of freedom, is hopeless,‘ he denounces. Even though not one to play the martyr card, Ai nevertheless relishes in a self-appointed role of spokesperson for the voiceless.
If there’s one who’s not free, then I’m not free. If there’s one who suffers, then I suffer,’ may sound a tad messianic. But it’s also a gutsy stand, in that it ignites a long overdue discussion about the politics of individual liberties in his country.

HARDSHIP & TURNING POINTS
When Ai Weiwei was born in 1957, his father Ai Qing, a well known poet, was facing a public campaign of defamation that was to last some Continue reading

Surabaya Brew

A Caged Animal & the Musky Roots
of the World’s Most Expensive Coffee

As lifetime caffeine lovers, there’s been hardly a day we haven’t had a cup of the stuff. And the world seems to follow our lead: more of it is consumed now than ever. So when out of the clear blue sky, stinky bad news hit us hard, our head hurt like we’re having withdrawn symptoms.
It’s one thing to enjoy the fine beverage made of roasted seeds of a plant. It’s another entirely when we pass those seeds through an animal digestive track, and once the remains come out, use that to prepare our drink. Disgusted yet? That’s not even the depressing part.
The beverage is made by force-feeding the seeds to Asian palm civets, a small animal that’s experiencing a second martyrdom in the hands of farmers. That’s because not long ago, it already used to be killed in mass for being the main source of musk, a highly sought after perfume scent that’s now produced synthetically.
Activists have been calling for a ban in the rudimentary technique of caging the animals for life, in an ever expanding farming process, which is not unlike the practices used in the U.S. for farming chickens and pigs. Growing world demand also means skyrocketing prices, and a pound of Kopi Luwak, its name, costs over $230.

TWICE-HUNTED FOR ITS BODY
By now, you’ve probably already realized that this won’t be about refreshing, hangover-curing types of fashionable coffee. In fact, Continue reading

The Deadliest Season

Beware the Newest Growing
Casualty of War: Journalists

While a precarious ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians hangs on the balance, there’s another tragic consequence among the conflict’s casualties: the breakdown of one of most basic precepts of modern warfare, that of the protected role of journalists covering the action.
Coinciding with claims that Israeli forces may have deliberately targeted alleged pro-Hamas reporters at a media center in Gaza, a new International Press Institute report puts at a record 119 the number of journalists killed around the world so far this year while doing their job.
Even though in every war, there’s a gray area intersecting the work of media-accredited reporters with that of P.R. professionals paid by one side or another, according to the Geneva Convention, all parts involved share responsibility over the lives of anyone covering an armed conflict.
Thus, any violation or deliberated attempt to restrict a reporter’s role during wartime is liable to internationally sanctioned punishment. The increased number of journalists being harmed, or even considered enemy combatants in contemporary warfare, should be cause for alarm to everyone who ultimately benefits from their courageous and often unfiltered coverage.
The convention was a civilized agreement, reached by almost all nations around the world in 1949, that aimed at both protecting the profession of war correspondent, and at establishing clear and humanitarian rules of warfare. Perhaps because much has changed since WWII, many governments took upon themselves to rewrite such rules, and the result has been disastrous.

SHOOTING THE MESSENGER
After its aircraft hit two Gaza media buildings on Sunday, wounding eight journalists, Israel first denied that they were the target. Then a military spokeswoman added a disturbing comment, saying that ‘the journalists … were serving as human shields for Hamas,’ which many took as a justification for the action.
It was all the more disturbing since last week, after three news organization employees were killed by Israeli missiles, the same spokesperson had said that ‘the targets are people who have relevance to terror activity,’ a wondrous sentence in its menacing vagueness.
In the 2008-2009 war against Hamas, Israel had already bombed the same buildings it blasted Sunday, under the assumption that Islamist militants were operating out of them. The viciousness of the most recent attacks bodes very poorly for Israel’s public image in the U.S., despite President Obama’s support to its actions.
Even though Israel can boast being one of the few countries in the region where there’s freedom of the press, the international community was aroused by how it chose to frame the argument: that the professionals that were wounded were in fact Hamas militants. That’s because whether they were or not is irrelevant in the context of the bigger issue.

NO EYEWITNESS CAN BE BLIND
The important distinction missing here is that journalists, while reporting for media organizations, have a commitment to be objective and present the facts with accuracy as they see them. Where their personal allegiances lie in the political spectrum should be irrelevant to the quality of their reporting.
Apart from that, they are also entitled to their own opinions, as citizens Continue reading

Classifieds

If the Headhunter Won’t Call,
You May Apply to One of These

It’s been said that we’re living through the wonders of a ‘courtesan economy.’ In fact, if there’s a profession that has shown a lot of resilience during this crisis, it has certainly been the world’s oldest. Apparently, and against what you may have heard, One Percenters continue to sleep really well, and often with high-paid company.
Now, if you’re nowhere near possessing curvaceous assets to market, or your bloodline left you wanting, you may be actually losing some sleep lately. But fear not: there are still plenty of positions available. To be sure, on the fringe of society, yes, some involving firearms, possibly, others not easily identifiable, perhaps, but they’re out there.
For example, have you ever had to ‘extract’ some valuable information from someone, that wouldn’t be forthcoming if you wouldn’t resort to some specific set of physical skills? Boy, do we have a place for you to start. Or let’s supposed you’re pursuing a higher education but lack the resources? don’t worry, there’s a university that can work out a plan with you (hint: it involves eating).
And so on. Don’t we all keep hearing about how poor people all of a sudden have decided they’re not in a mood to find a job, preferring instead to heap those fat government checks? Well, at least that’s what we’ve read from a presidential campaign brochure. But you’ll see, also, Continue reading

Texting George Kaplan


Highly Successful Habits
of Purely Made Up People

Most of us spend a lifetime struggling to be successful in at least one thing. The writer of this post, for example, after failing in almost everything he’s tried his clumsy hand at, has settled his sights on the promising world of accomplishments only a few dare to pursue.
The last we heard, he’s not doing too well. Apparently, turning off the light switch and landing on a bed before the room goes completely dark has its hazards. It seemed so simple, he told us, when Muhammad Ali revealed to a reporter that it was one of his nightly rituals.
As we talk, our humble scrivener still has at least a few hundred nights to get it done, before every bone of his body is fractured. We’ll keep you posted on that one. Now, where were we? Oh, that’s right, about lifetime achievements, or the lack of them. 
There are those who seem perfectly suited at imprinting their legacy on history books. Others go beyond that, and do it more than once. But none beats the kind of person that, besides all that, also manages to not exist at all. In fact, history records several of these characters.
Take George P. Burdell, for example, after whom the Georgia Institute of Technology named its Student Center after. According to the record, Burdell not just graduated from Georgia Tech, but flew 12 missions over Europe during World War II, served on MAD magazine’s Board of Directors for a dozen years, and in 2001 was almost named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year after garnering 57 percent of online votes. Not even Mozart worked this hard.
Despite his expected old age, he’s kept up with the new world and in touch with his over 4,000 Facebook “friends.” The only thing is, he doesn’t exist. Much less distinctive-named Ed Smith created him in 1927 by enrolling them both for a laugh at Georgia Tech. With Smith’s behind the scenes help, Burdell’s life took off on its own and thrived, as he become one of the institute’s most distinguished legends.

FAKE ARTISTS & SKITTISH CELEBRITIES
There’s also Nat Tate, a fictional artist whose life existed only in the imagination of Scottish novelist William Boyd. All it took him was to publish a book on Tate in 1998 as a biography and keep a straight face. His hoax got some mileage from friends Gore Vidal and David Bowie, all in the joke.
The gullible art intelligentsia of the time adopted and praised the unknown “artist,” until Boyd got tired of it Continue reading