Before Afterlife


Upon Departing, Would You
Tell a Story or Leave an App?

The flip side of living longer is that death now may also take longer to finally succeed. That drives some to rehearse their award acceptance speech, and others, to compose long goodbyes. Here’s to your own, self-penned obituary, and the app and avatar that’ll outlive you.
It’s like custom-making your own narrative. Soon there’ll be more Websites of the departed than the breathing kind like us (knock on wood). A not so silent majority dwarfing billions currently walking and cursing, who in turn are but a fraction of everyone who’s ever lived.
We should be careful about what we wish for, though. One of the gifts of being alive is that, mercifully, we have no idea when our time is up. The powerful industry of ‘cure,’ however, by making sure that we last, may be spoiling even that most gracious of nature’s charities.
Heaven forbid if we were to take away such a precious comfort from those on the death watch, though. After all, to have time to prepare one’s affairs, and everyone around, for that announced demise is no small miracle. Hence, the wills, the lists, the begging for forgiveness.
The same with this new realm we’ve created to keep our distance from others, the Internet. Who do you know who knows your passwords, Wed identities, and above all, your wishes about what to do with it all? Not many and most are not even slightly interested in knowing either.
You can always program, though. Better than to leave behind a wake of digital detritus, why not set something up, or find a way to terminate it all for good? A few predated posts may just do the trick. And there won’t be any need to deputize someone else to run things afterwards.
Granted, the person who’s gone won’t particularly care one way or another. So it’s just an ethical matter of some consideration, on whether you’d like to continue, so to speak, indefinitely, or would rather leave space for those who actually stand to be affected by it: the living.

BETWEEN TOMBSTONE & LIFEBOAT
Marilyn Johnson has helped disperse the common idea that newspaper obituaries, for instance, should be shallow and phony in their eulogy to the dead. In her intriguing The Dead Beat, she demonstrates how obituary writing is an important art form, usually assigned only to experienced journalists. One of the most read sections of any paper, the death notice must tell a compelling story starting by what’s (more)

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Unanswerable Prayers

Between Prediction & Petition,
We Beg to Differ With Our Lot

Someone once said that faith was created so man could argue with fate. Or god. Or whatever the hell we weren’t pleased about. A last ditch effort, our first and ultimate resort against reality, as we can’t change the outcome, and evidence usually points the other way.
David Bowie’s death was too much? A petition demanded his immediate return. Falling oil prices? That’s because the year started on a Friday, according to a Medieval prediction. A woman remained a virgin after her new born? 2000 years and many still care to vouch for that.
We simply can’t allow the thought that things may happen at random. Unable to accept that everything around us out-scales us by physical distance and impossibility of time, we choose not to ever be ready to hand over our self-appointed role of comptroller of the universe.
Which, as most things, remains as oblivious to our existence as a cat is to frantic calls to come back at once. We’ll scream, and curse, and swear we’ll move mountains if necessary. But the cosmic enigma, and that little ball of fur, won’t even give us the benefit of a glance.
So we create our temples, and churches, and rituals, and commandments. So to make sure that we won’t be forgotten. And our deeds on this planet will last. And our presence will be memorable. We’ll do that even knowing full well that our ashes will be scattered.

VENETIAN FORETELLING
That’s what we do; we’re convinced that if we tell a story enough times, it’ll become part of the historical record. Science may have amassed crushing evidence against it, but we’ll still recount our tales as if there’s a purpose to it all. We’ll still do it, bless our bleeding hearts.
The Zibaldone da Canal, a compendium of relevant issues to 14th century merchants, such as Arithmetics, spices, weights and (more)
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Play Dough

But Why Didn’t They
Call it The Big Pizza?

The world would laugh, if it’d even care, about the little idiosyncrasies New Yorkers seem to invest themselves with so much passion one would think that the fate of humankind is squarely pinned on them. Case in point: pizza, local fast food extraordinaire.
Now, we know, would it kill us to exercise restrain and abstain from such prosaic subject? We’re not above it, though; yesterday, when we were cold and short of cash, it seemed like a good idea. But fear not, for we approach the beast with utmost respect.
For even for pizza there’s a certain way of eating it, if far from solemn, that denizens of this great cesspool are proud of mastering early on. And then there’re all the wrong ways to be ashamed doing it. Just ask the Mayor, who was caught eating the holy dough with fork and knife.
Anathema, nothing less. After all, the whole combo of flour, cheese and tomato sauce may have been invented in the old country ages ago, but the slice and the ‘fold and eat with your hands’ maneuver have been both trade-marked right here, on the streets of the five boroughs, just like steaming manholes and yellow cabs.
What? You have a problem with that? No one should be surprised if many an argument has flared up or settled down over a steaming pie, and for that dwindling minority with a pocketful of change, nothing is as affordable and substantial than a 4am slice by the curbside.
But alas, not even pizza is that New Yorker, and as with many other city-by-the-river staples, it’s been appropriated by the world, many times over, gritty, warts et al. Perhaps one day we’ll all be talking about pizza like we do today about the old Times Square. But we digress.
We’re living in other times, that’s for sure, even if equally lean. Definitely diminished slant on little localized treats, though, as they plan on printing a pie in space and making a slice last longer than a heat wave. Never mind us old farts, for kids are unlike to mourn the demise of such a 20th century food relic.
Big Apple? Who were they kidding? So, fine, it was supposed to evoke the original sin and all that, besides looking a bit more photogenic in tourism ads. But the likelihood of seeing someone eating apples on the streets of New York was never bigger than spotting a kangaroo at a subway stop, or a beret-wearing mime.
Although we’re sure those have also been spotted somewhere around here. In any case, we thought about getting a quick survey on wonders of this thousand-year snack, that can proudly be a meal on its own right. Just don’t bring pineapples anywhere near one or we’ll scream.

MORE ITALIAN THAN ITALY
Inevitably, as with many scrumptious foods we’ve been indulging for centuries, the old loaf of bread covered in cheese and herbs (predating even the ascension of tomatoes, around 700 A.C.E.) came from the ancient country. Many trace its earliest reference to Virgil’s Aeneid, written almost 800 years before that.
To some, it was a baker in Pompeii, Publius Paquius Proculus, who invented it some 2,000 years ago, and in fact, a relic of the Vesuvius eruption that destroyed his city and Herculaneum is a fossilized round dough that strongly resembles some of the culinary achievements of ‘The Original Ray,’ in New York.
For the typical Napolitan, for instance, there’s nothing else but Marinara and, Ok, once in a while, Margherita, and we’ll spare you from the origins of these two common pizzas. We said hold the pineapples before but New Yorkers are known not to be above some sausage, (more)
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Heavenly Palace


As Tiangong Crashes Down,
Star Dreams Remain Aloft

Has the world gone mad? A camelback rider could’ve said that about the Sphinx in 2550, then under construction. And so could a tourist during the rare pink snowstorm that blanketed Europe the other week. Some may say it about the Chinese space station’s plunge into Earth.
It’s reassuring to see that reality can still top whatever buffoonery the orange rerun of Mr. T. may come up with. What? NASA is inviting people to add their name to the cargo of that soon-to-be launched sun probe? Well, nature has a couple of penguins taking selfies for you.
Not all is fun and cookies however, in the realm of the bizarre and out of whack. Like some nut, high on proving that god existed, who crashed her car on a pole on purpose, with her two kids strapped in the back seat. They all lived but god’d better not help her get back the children.
Or a guy who ran the cops to the ground, and beat a record that shall not speak its name (or get on the Guinness Book): he spent 47 days without going to the bathroom. They wanted to recover some drugs they say he’d swallowed, but after watching him on the throne for six weeks straight, they couldn’t take it anymore and just gave up.
Guess what science came up with, just so we’re clear we have no idea what we carry around in our bowels? Not one but two unknown human organs in less than a year: the mesentery and the interstitium. They’re with us since our bodies got the latest upgrade, circa 30,000 years ago, among the biggest organs in the body. But only now got their own billing.

WE WILL BE LIVING AMONG STARS
The man sitting on the White House toilet, tweeting, is quickly running out of tricks to cover up his con, but life, in the words of that great Jurassic Park philosopher, will always find fresh ways to shock and awe us. Even when it takes, say, a couple of thousand years. Or we’re unaware of its wonders.
Shorter and much more recent is our history building space stations. Since way before the Skylab ended six years of watching over us and precipitously rained in pieces over the Australian town of Esperance, of all places, in 1979, we’ve been trying to stay aloft each time longer.
Mir, which lasted 15 years and managed to survive the breakup of the Soviet Union, before breaking up itself and falling back to Earth in 2001, upped the ante. And the beloved International Space Station, the current title holder that completes 20 years in orbit this November, is still sitting pretty on the night sky.

THE FALLING BROKENDOWN PALACE
Do not blame the Chinese for trying. Here’s a land where the impossible takes place everyday. For millennia. From building a quasi-replica of Paris to having a number of metropolises sitting on empty, awaiting its much slowed down population growth, China gets it. But Tiangong 1, its first space station, is coming back to Earth.
Where? No one knows. The prototype was not supposed to last pass the two-year mark, in 2013, anyway. These things cost a lot to maintain. They say the next one will be bigger and better than this small but highly-sophisticated space bus. Still, a refrigerator-sized leftover chunk may surviving reentry. So look out.
Even if what goes up has to come down, eventually, whatever happens above has been considerably better, and nobler, that what’s going on down here. For to keep people up there takes our best and the absolutely limit of our capacity as living beings. Astronauts make us proud.

CHERISH THE FRESH & THE UNEXPECTED
Yes, the world has gone completely insane. But just as it’s crucial to know all about thorns, let’s not forget to caress the petals. The fiery universe, or universes, are expanding to the speed of life, but we’ve been given a bubble to breathe in and grow. We’re the guardians of the guardians that protect us.
We’re not excelling at it, that’s for sure. But let’s not confuse (more)
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Beautiful Bandit

Maria Bonita, Better Half of
Brazil’s Riskiest Love Story

It’s easy to romanticize about outlaws who fall in love, lead a trailblazing life, and burn out like shooting stars, leaving the holes in their story to be filled with awe by future generations. As legends recede, it’s ever harder to match them with reality.
But the life of Maria Déia and Capt. Virgulino Ferreira da Silva sure packs all the heat those landmarks evoke, placing them at the rarefied pantheon of anti-hero couples whose feats and memory still transfix the living, no matter how much time has passed.
As infamous leaders of a ragtag bunch, who terrorized the hinterlands of Brazil’s Northeast and entranced the nation in the 1930s, Maria Bonita and Lampião are at par with contemporaries Bonnie and Clyde, and after them, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.
They all rose quickly from the anonymity of underprivileged classes to news headlines by the way of the gun, leaving a trail littered with crime and death in their wake, but also, a surprising tenderness, represented by their mutual affection.
But while Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were not lovers, and Charles may have manipulated Caril Ann to follow him, Maria Bonita (Beautiful Maria) and Virgulino (lampião means oil lamp, but his nickname is a reference to his lethal firepower) did it all together.
They were equals and in synch in both love and killing skills, although she may’ve been demonized by the Brazilian press at the time, because she was a woman. How fitting then that today, March 8th, the International Women’s Day, also marks her 107th birthday.

QUEEN AND KING OF CANGAÇO
Lampião, 14 years her senior, was already a wanted bandit when he met and literally swept Maria off her feet, around 1930, in the arid Sertão of Brazil, in 1930. A kind of local Robin Hood, he’d avowed to avenge his parents’ deaths in the hands of government soldiers.
When she joined in, Maria became a de-facto co-leader of his gang, which certainly benefited from her charisma. They became folk heroes and it’s not hard to picture how the impoverished populace embraced their fight against enforcers of big landowners and corrupt politicians.
Lampião’s campaign lasted some 16 years, and even as Maria could have played Marian to his Robin exploits, the cangaceiros, as they were known, were closer, (more)
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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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Read Also:
* Fostering Clones
* The Whole Spiel

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Unanswerable Prayers

Between Prediction & Petition,
We Beg to Differ With Our Lot

Someone once said that faith was created so man could argue with fate. Or god. Or whatever the hell we weren’t pleased about. A last ditch effort, our first and last resort against reality, as we can’t change the outcome, and evidence usually points the other way.
David Bowie’s death was hard to fathom? There’s a petition for his ‘return.’ Falling oil prices? That’s because 2016 started on a Friday, says a Medieval prediction. A woman bore a child while still a virgin? After 2000 years, many still care enough to even vouch for that.
We simply can’t allow the thought that things may happen at random. Unable to accept that everything around us out-scales us by physical distance and impossibility of time, we choose not to ever be ready to hand over our self-appointed role of comptroller of the universe.
Which, as most things, remains as oblivious to our existence as a cat is to frantic calls to come back at once. We’ll scream, and curse, and swear we’ll move mountains if necessary. But the cosmic enigma, and that little ball of fur, won’t even give us the benefit of a glance.
So we create our temples, and churches, and rituals, and commandments. So to make sure that we won’t be forgotten. And our deeds on this planet will last. And our presence will be memorable. We’ll do that even knowing full well that our ashes will be scattered.

VENETIAN FORETELLING
That’s what we do; we’re convinced that if we tell a story enough times, it’ll become part of the historical record. Science may have amassed crushing evidence against it, but we’ll still recount our tales as if there’s a purpose to it all. We’ll still do it, bless our bleeding hearts.
The Zibaldone da Canal, a compendium of relevant issues to 14th century merchants, such as Arithmetics, spices, weights and (more)
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Read Also:
* Medieval Crafts
* Medieval News
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After the Flood

Katrina or When Climate Change
Collided Against the Racial Divide

They called for help but it never came. As the nation witnessed entire counties drown on TV, the president refused to cut down his vacations. The storm turned the Big Easy into one of the hardest places on Earth to survive. And a compromised recovery would be short and flawed and unequal.
They promised to rebuild but more than lives, personal belongings, and memorabilia got lost in the flood. Gone was also both New Orleans’ patina of a supposedly racial democracy, and yet another national lame excuse to deny climate change.
As it goes, both were currency during the Bush administration in the immediate post 9/11 era, when his government acquired immense powers to avenge, in a phony cowboy way, the open wounds of American society. Katrina, thus, was far from a ‘natural’ disaster.
The government that sent to the U.N. an honored but misguided black Secretary of State, to justify the Iraq invasion with manufactured evidence, had also promoted an energy policy based on fossil fuels that’s now directly linked to the climate deterioration of the planet.
A policy that, while lining government officials’ pockets, from the VIP down to close allies in the industry and oil-producing countries, has been instrumental for an explosive growth in the destructive power of storms such as Karina, and the wild fires now raging in the West Coast.

WHY THEY WERE LEFT BEHIND
Despite our first black president‘s usual brand of shinning rhetoric and optimism about the future, the state of race relations in this (more)
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* New Orleans Remembers

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The Letter Carrier

Bukowski, the Skid
Row Hero Who Did Try

Charles Bukowski would’ve been 95 today. But it’s doubtful he’d have like it. In fact, the writer who reluctantly embodied the outsider, hardly ever noticed by the literati world, spent his life as if he didn’t give a damn about much. But he actually did.
‘I have met more men in jail with style than men out of jail,’ wrote the on and off postal worker and regular menial job specialist, who had bouts with the FBI and the draft board, and developed a not quite accurate reputation as a drinker.
Heinrich Karl, who was born in Germany and moved to the U.S. in 1923, could’ve fooled anyone as just another destitute drunk, who didn’t belong anywhere or cared about having a career. On the outside, he seemed content with a bottle of cheap wine and a whore or two.
But despite his epitaph – Don’t Try, in a reference to advice he once gave to young writers – and fortunately to us, he did care enough to create a vigorous body of work, existential, visceral and deeply American, just as one of his heroes Henry Miller had done.
50 years ago this Aug. 22, Miller wrote Bukowski, ‘I hope you’re not drinking yourself to death,’ echoing concerns shared by his handful of friends and former lovers. He needn’t to worry that much: Bukowski died of Leukemia in 1994. He’d been sober for several years.

But there’s no misreading about his characters, a sore collection of cynical barflies, dirty hotel room dwellers, despised by anyone who loved them. Consumed by self-loath, they longed for (more)
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* Medieval Crafts

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Before Afterlife


Upon Departing, Would You
Tell a Story or Leave an App?

The flip side of living longer is that death now may also take longer to finally succeed. That allows some to endlessly rehearse their aw(kw)ard acceptance speech, and others, to compose long goodbyes. And yet many are happy to just get going. Here’s to your own, self-penned obituary, and the app and avatar that’ll outlive you.
People do wish to control their own narrative, and obituaries are potentially the final word about it. Soon there may be more Websites of those who went before than the breathing kind like us (knock on wood). Just like the current humanity, counting in the billions as it is, is but a fraction of everyone who’s ever lived.

We should be careful about what we wish for, though. One of the gifts of being alive is that, mercifully, we have no idea when our time is up. Long, extended diseases, and the industry of the ‘cure‘ making sure that we last, however, may be changing even that most gracious of nature’s charities.
But heaven forbid if we were to take away such a precious comfort from those on the death watch. After all, to have time to prepare one’s affairs, and everyone around, for that announced demise is no small miracle. Hence, the wills, the lists, the requests for forgiveness, and the peaceful way to depart from this realm.
The same with this new, decades-old world we’ve created to keep our distance from each other, the Internet. How many of those you know know your passwords, your Wed identities, above all, your wishes about what to do with it all? Not many and most are not too eager to give that sort of advance notice away either.
You can always program, though. Better than to leave behind a wake of digital detritus, why not set something up, or find a way to terminate it all for good? A few predated posts may just do the trick. And there won’t be any need to deputize someone else to run things afterwards.
Granted, the person who’s gone won’t particularly care one way or another. So it’s just an ethical matter of some consideration, on whether you’d like to continue, so to speak, indefinitely, or would rather leave space for those who actually stand to be affected by it: the living.

BETWEEN TOMBSTONE & LIFEBOAT
Marilyn Johnson has helped disperse the common idea that newspaper obituaries, for instance, should be shallow and phony in their eulogy to the dead. In her intriguing The Dead Beat, she demonstrates how obituary writing is an important art form, usually assigned only to experienced journalists. One of the most read sections of any paper, the death notice must tell a compelling story starting by what’s known as Continue reading

Village People

Three Towns: Sudden Slumber,
Aging Dreams & Cozy Oblivion

In one, people are falling asleep without warning. In another, they’ve dropped out long ago. And yet, the other shelters the mentally afflicted. There are places we move to, and places we’d rather stay clear of. And then there are the ones we visit for a life-changing experience.
This being the first day of Spring in the northeast, despite the snow forecast, discerning globetrotters would be already pressed to plan that skew, cultural-enhancing time off. Let us introduce them to three places capable of matching their inquisitive minds. Still with us?
There would be little sense in talking about the blue of the Caribbean sea, or the gusts of the Mongolian steppes. There’s even less to tell to those seeking the familiarity of pool attendants and the exotic sway of foreign shores. Let them go and pray that they keep their memories for themselves.
It’d also be unsound to send light-headed travelers to places where daily gunfire chases away beauty, and extreme poverty strips locals of dignity. Let’s let that to unsavory tourist guides, with their slick packages and greased brochures, and take a moment to mourn those stranded in bloody beaches.
Still, it’s a vast and mostly uncovered world, if one cares enough to learn while traveling, and leave a gentle impression before returning. Just like Sahara sands cross the Atlantic and fertilize the Amazon Rainforest, a journey should sow some seeds for every root uncovered.
Then again, why invoke a haboob, or a bad pun, to make a cross-pollination point? A trip is often worthier for the places it opens up within the traveler’s mind than the ones visited by the body. Thus our urge to introduce these towns, where residents may have something to uncover within you.

DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES IN KALACHI
Few outside this town of less than 700 people in Kazakhstan had heard of it before 2010. That’s when the outbreak of a still unidentified malady was first reported: people would suddenly fall asleep and remain like that for hours and even days. It continues to happen.
Five years later, and countless outbreaks since then, Continue reading

Bad Valentiming

What If It’s Better to
Skip Valentine’s Day?

Ever tried adding a few sugar spoons to your ice cream? Or drilled a hole on a can of condensed milk and sucked it right in? Well, we did. And here’s another diabetes-inducing rush happening this year: A Less Er Bleeding Chocolate Heart from Pushin DaisiesValentine’s Day falls on a Saturday. Tomorrow. Now go and check your blood levels.
Don’t get us wrong: we’re all for love and affection and all that. But we must admit it: we were never sold on the idea of trading chocolate and flowers and underwear for sex, if you don’t mind our bluntness. But hey, whatever rocks, right? Or so goes the credo.
Across the land, couples – or triplets or whatever – will go through the ritual (sponsored mostly by Hallmark?) of following a recipe concocted by the marketing gods to induce higher levels of shopping, and maybe, a special moment or two in the sack.
Or perhaps that’s not the point at all. That sack part, we mean. Thing is, we can’t ‘unsee’ the buying spree from the romantic thought of dedicating one day a year to our beating, pulsating, engorged bleeding hearts. (Spoiler alert: lots of lovers break up on this day too.)
Full disclosure: we’re being blasé on purpose. Can’t avoid it. What, with this age of revenge porn, and social media shaming, and hacking galore, it’s a wonder that our twitter accounts have been violated only a few times. Or that privacy has nothing to do with it, wink, wink.
But we’re not brutes. After all, when archeologists uncovered in Leicester, England, a 14-century pair of skeletons, buried together, hand in hand, or at least, arms entangled, we did savor for a minute the sweet thought that it was their choice, to be committed to the ground together.
A few years ago, another couple was found in the same situation, but they lived in Roman times. Continue reading

Late November

Après un Rêve

A stroll, some laughter, an unexpected Autumn adventure.
Time to mint new memories to keep you warm for the cold days ahead.
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– Well, ladies, would you care to join me?
It all had been a little bit of a trek albeit a fun one at it. Walking around the old neighborhood, and finding this empty house, one they had no need or intention of buying, or even renting it, but that seemed storied enough to elicit a casual stroll inside.
– I need to take a quick shower, before I go to work, he proclaimed, for heaven knows I won’t be retiring anytime soon. You’re under no pressure to join me, of course, but if you do, it’d make it all memorable and worthwhile, wouldn’t you think?
The last statement was carefully designed to trigger a certain titillating arousal among them, but it felt more like a déjà vu of all the boring come-ons and phony invitations they’d to endure on their way to where they stand right now.
So, they were ready to dismiss this yet another slightly creepy but harmless pontification of a man way passed his prime, when, to their astonished pairs of sore eyes, he then proceeded to shed his clothes and head to the bathroom. They’d both seen it all before, certainly, but still were not prepared to watch him act so preposterously fresh, despite their over century and an half combined age.
Standing still while the moment of startled silence settled in following his announcement, they turned to each other and exchanged a quick wink and a glimmer that surprised even them. After all, it’s not that those same tired eyes hadn’t met the glaze of happiness and glee before today. But he was no longer there to witness it.

Already at the full steam of soap and remembrance (yes, the hot water worked), the old foggy had already almost forgotten the challenge he sowed behind, when the two formerly statuesque beauties showed up at the doorstep of the washroom. In the buff, as they used to say in some forbidden past.
– Welcome, girls, well done, he said, trying to put the perfect combination of spring and nonchalance on the tone of his voice. Now I think that all that came before is shaping up to gather it all together, he added without any irony or mischief in his voice. Just like the ingredients of a cake would.
As the two entered the warm jet, they all took a moment to enjoy and reconnect with that feeling, long ago stashed in the storage place of their souls, of letting the kissing water touch their soft bodies, and the proximity of each other’s pulsating, and equally soft, skins, bringing back emotions they didn’t believe were still there.
Not shame, at all, but a mix of discreet embarrassment for, and one can’t help remembering it even for a second, the quiet desperation to realize that this moment would have evoked way more assailing emotions, had it occurred some two or three decades ago.
Part of the maturity they were supposed to have reached though, and despite the fact that deep within themselves, they all still felt unfulfilled and not quite as wise as they’d have expected to be at that quadrant, was the not too subtle understanding that this is no longer a life-altering event.
More like an extra glass of wine, shared at the end of the night, or a puff of pot, when the children, i.e., everyone else, are already tucked away sleeping, such moments, being so rare and far in between, no longer entitled preparations and feelings of anxiety for what they may have in store. Except when they do happen, of course.
Laughter and animated conversation erupted, as if there was still need to fill the space, while the old devil managed to squeeze in yet another alluring thought.
– I don’t remember the last time anyone soaped my back, by the way, so if you’re not too busy

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Play Dough

But Why Didn’t They
Call it The Big Pizza?

The world would laugh, if it’d even care, about the little idiosyncrasies New Yorkers seem to invest themselves with so much passion one would think that the fate of humankind is squarely pinned on them. Case in point: pizza, local fast food extraordinaire.
Now, we know, would it kill us to exercise restrain and abstain from such prosaic subject? We’re not above it, though; yesterday, when we were cold and short of cash, it seemed like a good idea. But fear not, for we approach the beast with utmost respect.
For even for pizza there’s a certain way of eating it, if far from solemn, that denizens of this great cesspool are proud of mastering early on. And then there’re all the wrong ways to be ashamed doing it. Just ask the Mayor, who was caught eating the holy dough with fork and knife.
Anathema, nothing less. After all, the whole combo of flour, cheese and tomato sauce may have been invented in the old country ages ago, but the slice and the ‘fold and eat with your hands’ maneuver have been both trade-marked right here, on the streets of the five boroughs, just like steaming manholes and yellow cabs.
What? You have a problem with that? No one should be surprised if many an argument has flared up or settled down over a steaming pie, and for that dwindling minority with a pocketful of change, nothing is as affordable and substantial than a 4am slice by the curbside.
But alas, not even pizza is that New Yorker, and as with many other city-by-the-river staples, it’s been appropriated by the world, many times over, gritty, warts et al. Perhaps one day we’ll all be talking about pizza like we do today about the old Times Square. But we digress.
We’re living in other times, that’s for sure, even if equally lean. Definitely diminished slant on little localized treats, though, as they plan on printing a pie in space and making a slice last longer than a heat wave. Never mind us old farts, for kids are unlike to mourn the demise of such a 20th century food relic.
Big Apple? Who were they kidding? So, fine, it was supposed to evoke the original sin and all that, besides looking a bit more photogenic in tourism ads. But the likelihood of seeing someone eating apples on the streets of New York was never bigger than spotting a kangaroo at a subway stop, or a beret-wearing mime.
Although we’re sure those have also been spotted somewhere around Continue reading