Happy New Weird


If the World Gets Upside
Down, Learn How to Float

Much has been lost in 2017, or is under threat. Our dignity as a nation, shared respect for facts, telling the truth without a subpoena involved. But we’re not giving up our ownership over what’s weird just yet.
See, since we’re ruled by someone with no regard for clarity, the very concept of what’s bizarre has become twisted. Well, no longer. Weird belongs to reality itself, has its own shine, and we’re its keepers.
But before highlighting some of the brightest spots, where the nonsensical and the truly odd reign supreme, and where no orange human has been before, here’s where the quirk and the surreal are actually enlightening. The Improbable Research, for instance, with its gloriously instructive Annals magazine and annual Ig Noble Awards.
Yes, it may never occurred to you that how long a cow stands may determine how long it will lie down (a 2013 award), or the effects of music on angry drivers (a recent paper), but boy, what a delight to learn. For these are accomplished scientists, fulfilling the ‘first laugh, then think’ motto. Yes, now you know.
On another end, there’s I Fought the Law, a book about some American laws, which may or may not be real. It all could’ve come from the same warped realm where the 45th seems to belong to, including suspicions that its author is pulling our collective legs. But what if somebody does want to ban the Stripes and Stars from being planted on a bar of soap?
In between, Pareidolia and your garden variety abnormalities of all suits, from time travelers, their blurry pictures and eerily-looking guns, to kinky children’s plays and traditional, but no less unsettling, national habits. Some quite unsavory indeed, but hey, haven’t you heard about the working, golden-platted toilet boil they’re shipping to the White House? So there you have it.

A NEW YORK CITY BAR BARS LITERALLY
The East Village Continental used to be a dive where $5 would get you good drunk to go. Now, $20 buys you only a literally washed-down Appletini. Just don’t dare saying ‘literally’ to the bartender; it’ll get you banned. That and mentioning the bankruptcy that will close it in July.
Or maybe it’s the clientele of NYU bros, who came with the onslaught of school dorms in the area. In any case, this dive is doomed and yes, the only good thing still good about the place is that it’s still a dive. Or maybe it’s now something else. Literally. Whatever.

NO, THIS BIRD CAN’T FLY WITH YOU
One of the most enduring cartoon characters ever created is Linus and his blanket, which he uses for emotional support. Charles M. Schulz knew a thing or two about Freud, and therapy, and how sometimes we all reach out for something to provide us relief from a troubled world.
But United Airlines sees it as a stunt, apparently. Even as animal companions are as common in air travel as, well, lack of leg room, the company has recently refused to let a woman board the plane with her pet peacock. And mentioning Freud or Schulz didn’t help her either.

BOILED BATS, COLD IGUANAS & FROZEN SHARKS
Evidence of climate change has been overwhelming. Hurricanes, wild fires, and that’s just talking about last year in the U.S. (more)
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Net Bandits


Here Are the Republicans Who Sold 
Your Internet Rights to Their Patrons

Smiling while preaching against the ‘heavy hand of government,’ Chairman Ajit Pai’s just fulfilled exactly what he’d been put in charge to do: to kick the teeth of the Federal Communications Commission, and yank the Internet from everybody but those who can pay to access it.
By a vote of 3 to 2, the FCC all but allowed big broadband providers to create Web lanes. It’s the Rule of the Mighty: to corporate ou social media giants, access online remains the same. To billions of small, independent sites, though, it’ll take forever. Unless you pay extra.
By betraying the its own mission, to protect everyone’s rights to a free Internet, Pai did a huge favor to both the Trump administration, and to his pals at Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and other big providers that stand to profit from his decision. While, of course, ignoring the people’s will.
For the majority – who know what Net Neutrality is – the Web is a utility, as vital as your water service, and should be left alone by those that had no part nurturing it to become what it is today. Ironically, some of them wouldn’t even exist if Pai headed the FCC, circa 2000.
Thousands expressed support to keep the Internet as it were, through the commission’s public hearing phase. But the game was rigged, and many saw it coming on Pai’s public statements. They sounded a lot like Scott Pruitt’s words and actions running the EPA (into the ground).
But it won’t happen without a fight. Activist groups and individuals, including N.Y. Eric Schnedierman and other Attorneys General, filed suit to prevent the FCC from destroying what’s not up to it to destroy. Eventually, one hopes, even those who still have no idea what they’ve just lost will join in too. Trump supporters, are you listening?
Meanwhile, here are the Republicans who voted to end a free and democratic Internet, and how much they’ve got from telecoms since 1989, according to The Center for Responsive Politics and The Verge. Keep it in a safe place and be sure to remember their names next time you’re in the voting booth. As for Colltales, we’re taking it down either.
THE DIRTY, INFAMOUS HUNDRED MINUS
Mo Brooks, AL ($26,000), Ron Estes, KS ($13,807), Thomas Massie, KY ($25,000), Ralph Norman, SC ($15,050), John Moolenaar, MI ($25,000), Neal Dunn, FL ($18,500), Mike Bishop, MI ($68,250), Alex Mooney, WV ($17,750), Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, PA ($70,500), Blaine Luetkemeyer, MO ($105,000), Paul Gosar, AZ ($12,250), Richard W. Allen, GA ($24,250), Kevin Cramer, ND ($168,500), Greg Walden, OR ($1,605,986), Marsha Blackburn, TN ($600,999), Billy Long, MO ($221,500), Gregg Harper, MS ($245,200), (more)
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Farewell Dive

Cassini Bids Bye Bye With Last
Jump Into the Rings of Saturn

The spacecraft that’s been orbiting Saturn for the past 13 years, is executing its final dive today. It’ll be a grand finale, fireworks and all, as it’ll crash while taking the last of thousands of pictures and videos it already took from the ringed giant.
It was a risky triumph for NASA, for the $3.4 billion, plutonium-powered probe swung up close by us, in 1999, to use Earth’s gravity to shoot up towards Saturn. A mishap could’ve been disastrous, but it was worth: we’ve learned so much with the little probe that will die today.
These expensive and far-reaching missions always prompt questions as to their validity. It’s no different with Cassini. Many doubted its science, and to some politicians its cost-to-dividend ratio could never be compared to, say, another monstrous taxpayer-funded sports arena.
Since it’s hard to quantify the exact impact Cassini‘s will have on our knowledge – apart from, well, so much more than we knew before -, projects like these may be on their way out. While it traveled to Saturn, nanotechnology, for instance, experienced a quantum leap.
Advances in computer science and robotics, as well as the entry of private enthusiasts in the field of space exploration, may assign a different role to organizations such as NASA, and the European and Italian space agencies, that collaborated to make the Cassini project an astounding success.

A TRANSCENDENTAL STEP IN SPACE
For, however be that as it may, the orbiter, and its hitch-hiker, the Huygens lander, dropped on Titan in 2005, represent a staggering milestone. Its secrets will still challenge us long after everyone alive now is gone. That, by the way, is the only form of immortality that makes sense.
It’s the part when space as a metaphor to the human adventure on this planet resounds the most transcendental. That’s how Italian Giovanni Domenico Cassini, and Dutch Christiaan Huygens, both mathematicians, remain alive and even more relevant today than during their XII century existences.
The Cassini journey has also an added benefit: allowing mankind to witness a complete cycle, which started (more)
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New York Bites

One Bridge For Sale, the Train
Savant & the Churchyard Sheep

Self-confidence is the New York currency. That’s why stories about the city and its citizens are borderline hyperbolical, lest no one be accused of being meek. No wonder; with 27,000 people per square mile, one needs all the distinction they can muster. Even if involves tall tales.
At least, eight million of them, as the 1948 classic Naked City claimed. Then as now, all are outstanding. Heard the one about selling the Brooklyn Bridge? Or the guy who went to prison for stealing the subway dozens of times? But fear not, the sheep are coming back to town.
Big Apple; city that never sleeps; top of the heap. New Yorkers are so fed up with slogans, sobriquets, and movies about their town being destroyed. Specially since it’s now far from the lawless wasteland some still expect from it. Just don’t try to sell cat hair, of course.
But urban myths about sewer alligators, or rats the size of cats, die hard. And so does the belief that residents are rude – they’re not, Ok? gotta a problem with that? – or getting rich just by mining the streets. The thing is, the real New York stories are much better than these.
So, yes, you hear this place is the greatest of this and greatest of that, and self aggrandizing is a competitive sport. But you’d better back up what you say or you’ll get your behind kicked before you can say, trump. As for that orange sleazyball, don’t worry: we’re working on it.

ONE BRIDGE IN GOOD CONDITION
Speaking of con men, and dealers who can’t close a deal, there’s a New Yorker who truly may’ve been the greatest of them all, or at least, one of the first of a long line of pretenders and liars: George C. Parker. Yes, he did ‘sell’ the Brooklyn Bridge at the turn of the 19th century.
Not once, but twice a week, for 30 years. He was not the only one to try, but seemed to have beaten the competition. His scheme even inspired the Mae West‘s 1937 vehicle, Every Day’s a Holiday. By then, no fraudsters of that ilk were still alive, only their legacy.
It’s survived to this day in the Nigeria‘s sudden riches Internet hoax, and, somehow, in the U.S. presidency. The set up, and the bill of goods involved, may change, but two core elements are still around: snake oil salesmen, and the gullibility of get-rich-quick believers.

THE SAD TALE OF THE TRAIN MAN
Darius McCollum may be many things: impersonator, trespasser, lawbreaker. He also has Asperger’s syndrome, and his feats flared up New Yorkers’ imagination – hey, his train was always on schedule. But one place he does’t belong to: Rikers Island.
And yet, he’s spent half of his 52 years in prisons like that. His deed: invading the subway system and conducting the train, without working for MTA. Or missing a stop. He did that many times since he was 15, and also tried his able hands on LIRR trains and a Greyhound bus.
Many believed he should’ve gotten the job that’d have saved him. Instead, the agency with an ugly record running NYC (more)
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Nobody’s Children

Argentina’s Stolen Babies & the
Unfair Legacy Thrust Upon Them

As far as G. knew, his was a great upbringing. Only child of a wealthy elderly couple, he grew up in a big house in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, with all the toys he ever wanted, many a happy summer spent in the Alps, and the occasional trip to Disneyland. Papá worked for the president, so he even got to play at the Casa Rosada sometimes.
It was there that he saw the old ladies. Everybody knew about ‘Las Locas de Jueves,’ as mamá used to call them. But now they were often on the evening news, ever so briefly. Then papá got arrested and G.’s world went into a downward spiral. Specially when he learned that his grandmother could be one of those Thursday Crazies.

Not the one he loved so much, and laid to rest at La Recoleta years ago. Someone else. Someone who helped sent his godfather to prison. Someone who called papá a torturer and a thief of kids. From then on, the life he knew began to unravel and almost nothing he ever thought was true, was. That was not his father. That was not his mother.
One day, someone knocked on his college dorm door. He opened it to a spitting image of his, staring back at him. ‘I’m Juan. I’m your twin,’ he said. It was the end of his studies and beginning of a heart-wrenching, gut-spilling, mind-twisting existence. It’d take long, if ever, for G., now, P., to either put pieces together or throw them all out for good.
That year, he’d part with being a teen, and with his entire history, family, and full name. He’d meet a whole new set of relatives he never knew existed, and is still not sure he’ll ever love; come to terms with his parents being monsters even as he wouldn’t be about to ever hate them; and replace his own personal, lived experience, with a narrative told by others.
He would also find out that he’s unwittingly part of one of the greatest tragedies that befell his country, and there won’t be a place for him to hide, or disappear, like what happened to his biological parents. As they, he’s now forever trapped within a tale not of his own making, and likely much bigger than his own life will ever be.
Speaking of life, his still unsure about what his is supposed to be. For the burning intensity of having an organic connection with a group of strangers, who suffered through hell to find and make him one of their own again, has no bearing on or anticipate whether any of his double lives – one of absence and the other, obliviousness – will ever belong to him.

THE SEARCH FOR THE NETOS
This fictional account of G., or P., or A., or K., has been multiplied more than a hundred times in Argentina. Ever since The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo picked a Thursday in 1977 to protest the disappearance of their sons and daughters, murdered by the military juntas that took over the country three years before, and lasted till 1983.
When it was obvious they would never return, the madres pressed for their children, many related to them, a humanitarian quest that’d sure to offer everyone hope. Historically, the theft of babies ordered by dictators is akin to the grotesque rape of women by every invading force since Antiquity, on their way to total domination and control of the blood lines of those they’ve vanquished.
It was integral to the wave of right-wing, fascist coups that swept Latin America from the 1960s on, few with the ferocity adopted in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Such nefarious weapon of subjugation (more)
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Empire of Only One

When You Build in Solitude
That Which Will Outlast You

No man is an island, wrote John Donne, in what’s now a big, fat cliché. Yet, there’s David Glasheen, living alone on a island for 23 years. And Jadav Payeng, who planted a whole forest on his own. Or Justo Gallego, who built a cathedral by hand.
Then, there’s a man who’s surely envious of the solitude all three find comfort on. Accused of bilking people of their money, his victims found a way of placing his face all over the world, as a casualty of various acts of terrorism, even as he wasn’t near any of them.
Undue exposure as an act of revenge is certainly a modern phenomenon, with social media, and news report manipulation, replacing the shame of standing naked in the public square of Donne‘s times. But each man plays an unwitting, and extreme, role in contemporary society’s drama.
While Glasheen has just about enough of all of us, Payeng has dedicated his life to leaving us a legacy. As Gallego was erecting his monument to devotion, others devised a devilish prank as the only alternative to denounce and get something back out of a con man.

TO WALK OUT OF IT ALL
Not that many would’ve noticed, or cared about it, but when the stock market crashed, on October of 1987, the world lost a few millionaires. Most got quickly back in the saddle, as financiers are won to do. Australian businessman Glasheen took the hint to drop out, and instead, moved to a desert island.
But his is no epic tale, all heart-warming quotes of inspiration and non-conformism. For starters, like most hermits, he’s not very fond of the likes of us. Which is a feeling that comes in handy if  (more)
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Slippery & Walkable

The Banana Comic Hour
& a Cabbage Walking Tour

Only bananas to elicit such an immediate, jocose reaction from us. From shape to content, it’s not even a fruit, but a berry that comes with its own signature visual gag: someone slipping on a peel. A soul that hasn’t laughed at a butt being splashed on the floor is yet to be born.
The cabbage, on the other, still odorous side, is about foods not fit for dessert. Dieting, intestinal functions, and the sober, stark Irish and Eastern European cuisines are its realm, and it has thrived for centuries as a tool for parental torture of their crying, spoiled-rot tots.
And yet, for all its sensual pleasures, banana was central to colonial wars, even if slaves and marauders wouldn’t recognize it today: we now favor Cavendish, a seedless, sterile clone. But all is forgiven if that cream pie lives up to its billing.
As for the hardy cabbage, it may be bitter like a prescription, but its color palette is unmatched. Sure, it’s resilient, and it’ll remain fibrous after hours of boiling. It won’t apologize when others veggies wilt, and yet, some would take it for a walk, but we’ll get there before soup.
It may seem in bad taste to talk about food in a week like that. At least insensitive, some would say, to write about edibles and not mention Belgium waffles. But both bananas and cabbages beat any coward massacre, as the one we’re unfortunately forced to endure and grieve.
But what’s better than a hearty meal and a succulent shake? Cooking with compassion will always beat terror, let alone hunger. Rather than war, we’d serve bananas and cabbage to those suffering in Brussels. Here’s to your honor; may this meal lift your spirits.

TROPICAL RACE & THE PEEL SPIEL
The world eats more mangoes, but bananas have a more nuanced if brutal history: the rampage of Europeans and Americans to ransack Latin American nations, and the few politically-charged, and blatantly racist expressions to match: monkey business, banana republic, etc. And never forget those excessive plantains.
Its popularity growing, bananas may have climate change as a formidable adversary, and all sorts of fungi remain a constant threat. Some fear extinction, but while that doesn’t happen, we’re surely the big banana here, so don’t ever call us Berry.
Celebrity came with Andy Warhol, public demand brought it to Iceland, but monkeys were always the ones to better peel a banana. By the way, (more)
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