Blood Money

Digging for Gold &
Finding a Rat, Instead

There are two sure ways to change one’s social status, we’re told: win the lotto, or find a lot of cash. What we’re rarely told about, though, is that pesky moral itch that troubles some: where’s this coming from? That’s surely enough to put a chill on that big blast in Vegas.
What if you’d come across a cache of dough? Yay, you’re rich. But wait, you’d say. Was this stolen from natives? Jews? drug fiends? If you’d been in the mountains of Poland, or in the sea and farms of Colombia, in the past few months, you’d certainly wonder. As you should.
So, fine, what if you don’t ask those questions? No sweat, take the money and run. Who knows, you may have people you want to help, will wind up running a charity or something. Good for you. Just be sure not call anyone from that bus station, once you’re done and broke.
The Internet is full of heart-warming stories, about nice chaps finding cash and instead of running, returning it all. Which is great but doesn’t turn anyone into a certified saint. Then again, there’s always the possibility that it’s too good to be true. A con. A hoax.
There are many ways to screw up the few chances one gets in this life. Even if there’s no nobility on starving, or natural enlightenment for being poor, time on Earth goes very fast. That means that, even making a wrong detour may lead you to redemption. Or something. Just don’t call, etc.

A 2-PART, 300-YEAR BATTLE
The Spanish Armada’s 1588 defeat to the British didn’t stop their nations’ centuries-old rivalry (which set today’s dominance of their languages). In May of 1708, one of its ships, the Galleón San José, lost another battle to the Royal Navy and sank off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.
Last week, when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted the wreck’s discovery, staking a claim over its estimated record $17 billion treasure, he immediately set up yet another 3-way battle, this (more)
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Finger-Crossed Nation

With Due Respect to Germany,
If Brazil Loses It’s All Our Fault

Just about now, some 200 million Brazilians are deep into their strategic planning for Brazil vs. Germany, the game in Belo Horizonte that will define the World Cup’s first semifinalist. They are not, however, concerned about partying or commiserating afterwards.
They’ll instead be carefully deciding exactly what outfit to wear and just about every other detail related to the viewing experience, down to repeating everything they did during Brazil’s past wins. Make no mistake about it: whatever happens, they’ll feel responsible for it.
World Cup 2014 LogoThat’s how viscerally Brazilians try to take ownership of sorts over fate, when it comes to their national football team, even though for everyone else, it’s just a purely human, vain attempt to feel in charge over something that’s essentially out of anyone’s control. Good luck telling them that, though.
For that’s entirely in line with a nation that, until a few years back, used to be know for the biggest concentration of Catholics in the world, outside Italy. Such assumption sounds now as hollow as long ago demoted definitions of Brazil as a ‘racial democracy,’ or the ‘country of the future.’
The hidden truth about that old cliche was that, even as most still call themselves Christians, Afro-Brazilian cults and their deities, brought to the land by slaves, has always exerted a stronger pull over the faithful and whenever Jesus wouldn’t hear them, the Orixás would come to rescue. In doubt, most would worship both.
On top of that, since the 1970s, there’s been a dramatic increase in Messianic Evangelical faiths, that’s slowly taken hold of Brazil and now has enormous consolidated power over all aspects of society, from media ownership to political representation, which translates in massive wealth to its preachers.

TILL PRAYER (& MACUMBA) DO US APART
Using an appropriately religious expression, they’re ‘all united in faith,’ or something, anything, that will make them believe that devout ardor beats the basic randomness of nature, the one that presides over polls results, pregnancies, and of course, games of football. Somehow, these two forces always collide.
That is, unless there’s corruption, traffic of influence, and downright theft playing a part too. We honestly doubt though that it has any sway over the final stages of a competition of such a magnitude as the World Cup, however hard some may try to imply that it does. Then again, who knows?
But cliches about Brazil’s mysticism and the passion of its people for the game are but a small part Continue reading

The Scream Is Over

The Biggest of the Little Guys
Gets Bounced Off the World Cup

The World Cup has always been a lot of things to a lot of people. In fact, for millions of Americans, there could hardly be anything more important happening this Tuesday than the game that Team USA was playing against Belgium in the Brazilian city of Salvador.
But the cup is a brutal place for underdogs. Despite its cathartic explosion of goals, already exceeding previous editions, it also has a predatory taste for heartbreak. Thus when Lukaku scored and kicked out the U.S. from the tournament, millions of dreams were crushed.
World Cup 2014 Logo copyThe unprecedented crowds that overwhelmed bars, clubs and eateries throughout the States were absolutely sure that this was not going to be Belgium, even if it was Tuesday, and cheered and screamed and dared to imagine victory until what felt like a sucker punch in the gut.
The deafening silence that followed the referee’s final whistle would moved to tears even the hardest Neocon, or those known for despising beggars and Greenpeace activists. The 2X1 score was even more disappointing because, as it’s often the case, the U.S. was so close to tying it, so close to overwhelming it.
It wasn’t to be. Not that this is unfamiliar territory for the only major nation on the planet that calls football soccer, where the great majority still prefers to follow its insulated brand of league sports, and whose notion of a global ball competition involves exclusively its Northern neighbor.
There’s no need to act so sourly about Jürgen Klinsmann’s choices. After all, the current cycle of sunspots is also not what it’d been cracked up to be, scientists say. So if even the billions-old shiner can afford an off cycle or two, so can Clint Dempsey and his mates. And so can we all.
Which doesn’t mean that Team USA’s ride wasn’t thrilling, as it’s been for at least three consecutive World Cups, and that they haven’t given their very best, which it’s also been the case for the longest while. Then again, you can say the same about pretty much every ‘little’ team that never makes it to the final.

EVERY BIT A FLAMING TRAIL
For there hasn’t been a single case of a fragile team winning it all in this almost century old tournament, including the big guys, when they play a notch below their historical best. Continue reading

Freaky Links

When Mooncakes & Underwear
Gauge Your Hopes About the Future

The heart wants what it wants, and the brain makes up for what we can’t see. Since the first cave man dropped his rock and read his pretty girl’s rosy future on a bunch of leaves and sticks, we’ve been desperate to learn what’s coming at least a few moments earlier.
Thousands of years of failed divination and silly games of chance, and we still believe that, out of the merciless natural chaos, we’ll be graced with order, to make sense of it all. Never mind romance, though. Today, our money’s on the cult of economic predictions.
Thus the supposed relationship between the recession and unclaimed corpses, a rise in murders and leaded gasoline, the comfortingly unreliable link of serial killers and the shared economy, and that old, and slightly dirty, classic, the Underwear Index.
Certainly, the fervor about the future is never lost in tabloid horoscopes, the street corner palm reader, the interplanetary dance, or the long-distance psychic. There’s really no logical explanation for the rush to see trends in new babies’ names, or the anxiety about the Groundhog that supposedly calls out the remaining winter days left, climate change notwithstanding.
But nowhere the fever is more profitable (or ruin-driving), and the numbers are revered with such respect than the stock market, which if it hasn’t replaced high-rolling gambling, is still an activity rewarded by how professional is your con of selling investors into your brand of golden pills.
We should know better, of course. But no matter how much we know, we keep coming back for more, watching mesmerized the same static pictures, while believing that the lines are moving, or the face with three eyes, as if it has only two, because after all, it just can’t possibly be.
In fact, it’s frighteningly easy to fool the headquarters of our making sense of the world, the brain, and how naive it tries to compensate for 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

Spring Quickens

Colors Are Bright But
Critters Are Crawling

We’re deep in the age of freaking out about nothing, while getting numb about what screws us up. If that sounds hyperbolic, take Spring’s arrival in the Northern Hemisphere, and its annual rites of wonder and obsession with sights, smells, colors, and specially, crawlers.
Yes, along with flowers and the birds, the music in the air, and the light afternoon breeze, there’s no end to the sheer terror of being touched not by an angel but by a bug. And there are plenty of them. We give you three of the most distinctive: cicadas, snails and cockroaches.
It may be hard to grasp why city folk is so terrified about the prospect of being covered by these minute aliens, utterly different from us, and yet, way more necessary to the natural world than our stinking behinds, but what’s really over the top is the language with which they’ve been greeted in the media.
‘Billions of Cicades to Swarm the East Coast.’ ‘Giant African Snails Invade Miami.’ Or ‘Roach Infestation Disables Greyhound Bus.’ Note the use of superlatives, of ‘enhanced,’ albeit cliche-ridden, imagery, all documented with detailed pictures of the little monsters in all their otherness and difference.
It’s all true, of course, even though that we are the ones who’re invading them, or at least causing them to multiply and seek refuge in our dwellings. Pollution, climate change, pesticides, it’s all our own doing, really. And the inclusion of roaches here is because, let’s face it, there are simply very few places on earth they won’t show up.
As for those who blame the media for all the alarm, let’s keep in mind that both language and imagery come from or are based upon the greatest compendium of advertising horrors we’ve ever known: the bible. That’s where such fears can be tracked to, plus the gory flair that pious writers, such as Dante Alighieri, have added throughout the years.

So when locusts showed up in city-size dark clouds over the Middle East, last month, that creaky mother of all qualifying cliches of news coverage trudged right along with it: ‘biblical proportions.’ Followed, of course, by words such as ‘plague’ and ‘apocalyptic.’ Never mind that the phenomenon, however its disturbing look and destructive power, has been happening since, well, biblical times.
It doesn’t matter. We’ll freak out about it all the same. War, poverty, hunger, slavery, exploitation, disease, all of which also playing leading roles in the gospels, seem to have somehow lost Continue reading

Helping Themselves

Brazilian Preachers Amass Their
Wealth & Followers by the Millions

They hold court to thousands every week, performing original songs in elaborated sets, just like any pop star. They routinely land on Forbes’s wealthiest lists, while their core audience is part of Brazil’s lowest income bracket. They were never known for civil liberties, though.
But despite protests, an evangelical preacher became the head of a rights commission at Brazil’s lower house. Since the 1970s, so-called messianic cults have thrived in the country. But no one expected these new multimillionaires to get so much political power so fast.
The issue has a particular tenor to it, since the rise of charismatic religions coincided with a decline of Catholicism in Brazil, and even a modest increase in the number of those who do not identify with any denomination. Specially now that a Brazilian bishop is considered a pope contender.
He’s a long shot, of course, even if Brazil has the biggest number of Catholics in the world. The problem is, Dom Odilio Scherer may be in tune with the Vatican, but is out of step with the majority, the only segment of the church capable of competing with the rise of the evangelicals.
Rome apparently turns its nose at Padre Marcelo Rossi, for example, a former personal trainer who became one of the wealthiest and most popular Catholic priests in Brazil, and who regularly sings and performs dance routines in front of 25,000 worshipers at his megachurch in São Paulo.
Like him, there are few others who also belt out songs, while ‘donning cowboy hats and crooning country tunes at Mass,’ and even publish Continue reading