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The Bigger Picture

Venezuela imploding. Syria exploding. Record levels of carbon dioxide in the Antarctic. Record temperatures throughout the planet. Record numbers of refugees everywhere. A widening gap between the wealthiest and the poorest. "Powerful groups, especially in corrupt states, use their power to capture resources," explains political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon, associate director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation. "You get a polarization of wealth, a weakening of state capacity, and urban stress. We are seeing these things around the world now," he continues. "As environmental stresses get worse, [their effects] become more common." In other words, battle lines being drawn, as Buffalo Springfield sang back in 1966. Will we humans continue to fight our petty battles, put up ever taller walls, and blame each other as our planet slowly withers away around us in the wake of climate change? Or, to put it more ominously, as does Cynthia Arnson, director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America Program, "Who defines when the beginning of the end has begun?":
   A group of researchers has figured out how to quickly determine the answer to a frequently asked question, "Is this particular catastrophe a result of climate change?":
   Stephen Stills, then of Buffalo Springfield and later of Crosby, Stills, and Nash (& sometimes Young) fame, wrote "For What It's Worth," better known by a line from its refrain, "stop, children, what's that sound" (video):

Memory Serves

from Institute of Neuro Innovation
After all the disconcerting information we've gotten over the years about Alzheimer's comes reason for hope. A study ~ admittedly, a small and still short-term one ~ found that a multi-pronged treatment called metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration (MEND) not only halted but actually reversed the symptoms of the disease. The patients were in the early stage, and the program involved diet, exercise, and sleep habits as well as a combination of drugs, vitamins, and brain stimulation therapy:

Seize the Sea

It seems that every time one turns around, there's another international crisis brewing somewhere. One that's been slowly building up steam (to continue with the cooking metaphor) is the dispute over the South China Sea. China is laying claim to a large part of it, and the reason is obvious: This waterway sees more than $5 trillion of trade a year. But the Philippines disputes that claim and, in fact, has brought the whole thing to The Hague for adjudication. The tribunal's decision, which may come in the next month or so, isn't enforceable, but it could make a difference, and now all of a sudden the major players (and this includes, of course, the United States on the side of the Philippines) are working hard to gain adherents. There has also been more military presence in the area of late, and China has over the last few years built up more than 3,000 acres of land on some of the sea's islands and reefs. "If you think in terms of a chess board, everyone is moving pieces around in anticipation of the next phase of events in the South China Sea emerging from that PCA [Permanent Court of Arbitration] finding," explains Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute: and
   Above-water land isn't the only thing the Chinese are working on in the South China Sea. They have plans to build an underwater, manned deep-sea (as in 10,000 feet down) platform from which to mine for minerals and also, some suspect, to use for military purposes:

El Kah-Pop

Where, besides South Korea, will you find K-pop stars in the making? Would you believe Mexico? Anyone needing proof of the power of music to bring people together need look no further than the K-Pop Academy in Mexico City. Run by the Korean Cultural Center, it opened recently and has reported that more than 400 applicants are now vying for the 60 available spots. Students will learn how to pronounce the Korean song lyrics and get singing and dancing lessons, all taught by K-pop professionals:

Conversion Rate

As our 60,000-year-old history of human migration continues, we are bearing witness to its many repercussions, both positive and negative, intended and not. One of those that may come as a surprise is the recent news that there has been a rise in the number of Muslim refugees in Europe converting to Christianity. This may also come as a surprise to ISIS/Daesh, whose violent tactics have been named by many of those refugees as the reason for their conversion. Of course, there are those, too, who hope that converting will help them obtain asylum. "There are many reasons [for conversion] but among them is undoubtedly the mass movement of people and the increasing interconnectedness of the world," notes Toby Howarth, bishop of Bradford. "The world ~ and people’s identities ~ are being shaken up":
   Another example of this shake-up comes from South America, where among the millions who have abandoned Catholicism for evangelicalism, there are those who, like a couple of very determined men and those who followed them in Colombia, did not stop there but moved from evangelicalism to Orthodox Judaism (story, video):

Just Because: 'Porcelain: A Memoir'

Jaime Espinoza/Aesthetic Magazine
It's funny how families evolve (and devolve) over time. A person who had incalculable positive influence on and in the world can be followed, generations later, by descendants who live in the same insignificant anonymity as most of the rest of us. And then, one day, that same lineage can find itself graced by another fascinating and influential individual. Richard Melville Hall, aka Moby, polymath extraordinaire, is, famously, the great-great-great-grand nephew of Herman Melville (1819-1891), best known for his novel Moby-Dick, the short story Bartleby, the Scrivener, and the unfinished novella Billy Budd. This author, too, was a man of many talents and occupations. His scion, Moby, has added to our current line-up of music memoirs (think Patti Smith's Just Kids, Keith Richards's Life) with Porcelain: A Memoir. Unlike so many of the others, it's about a more recent time, the '90s, but like so many of the others, it tells the story of a talented guy for whom music is an escape from an otherwise dismal life.



All the stores at the Dock mall in Stratford, Connecticut, were closed for the night, except for the Fresh-n-Kleen Laundromat. My mom was inside the Laundromat, wearing blue jeans and a brown winter jacket that she'd bought at the Salvation Army for five dollars. She stood at a cracked linoleum counter underneath flickering fluorescent lights, smoking a Winston cigarette and folding clothes. Some of the clothes were ours, and some belonged to our neighbors, who sometimes would pay us to wash and fold their laundry. On this March night the storefronts were dark; the parking lot was empty except for our silver Chevy Vega and one other car. The cold was wet and heavy, and the piles of snow in the corners of the parking lot had turned gray and were melting in the rain.
   Every two weeks I'd find myself at the Dock, doing laundry with my mom. I would help her, or just sit on the fiberglass shell chairs in the Laundromat and watch the giant dryers spinning in their fast, lopsided way. My mom had been unemployed for over a year, and her last relationship had ended when her boyfriend tried to stab her to death. Sometimes I would find her crying while she folded the

A Tale for Our Times

Michael Jackson is one of those featured in the series                   David Baltzer/Zenit/IAIF/Redux
Many famous novels started out as serialized installments in magazines ~ The Count of Monte Cristo, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Madame Bovary, In Cold Blood, and The Bonfire of the Vanities, to name a few (also, every one of Charles Dickens's novels, to name a few more). In a more contemporary take on that fine tradition, there's whatever this undertaking by 9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9 turns into. It apparently began in April with a post on Reddit and continued with various and seemingly random entries here and there. Eventually, a pattern began to emerge. When consolidated, the fragments were seen to make up the backdrop of a story now nicknamed The Interface Series. The author, who describes himself as "a 30-something American male without the benefit of a college education and a stable job," admits to errors both historical and grammatical and to "laughably overwrought prose." Be that as it may, he has garnered not an insignificant number of fans ~ and subreddits (story, links to interview and the series):

One Is Silver and the Other's Gold

Richard Renaldi
There's another photography project on the streets of the Big Apple. First, there was HONY (Humans of New York:,, and now, for something a little different, we have Touching Strangers. Photographer Richard Renaldi poses people who've never met as if they've known each other all their lives. As one might expect, some of these strangers embrace the opportunity, quite literally, while others just can't seem to get past their awkwardness ~ and of course, the camera captures it all (video):

A Living Wage

celebrating in Bern                                                                                  Denis Balibouse/Reuters
Somewhere not too long ago, I read a piece about the workplace of the future ~ or rather, the non-workplace of the future. The idea was that with so much work being automated, there will be that many fewer jobs for humans, so our whole system and way of thinking will have to change to accommodate the reality of people not having to actually work. There is a concurrent thread winding its way through the ethos about how our long-accepted financial system is causing a quickly widening gap between the ultra-poor and the ultra-wealthy of this world. In a study that combines the two premises, the Silicon Valley company Y Combinator will be paying 100 families in the city of Oakland, California, a minimum wage, no strings attached, for six months to a year. "The study," according to the article, "will test payment methods and data collection, as well as whether the money meets people’s core needs, and how it affects people’s 'happiness, well-being, financial health, as well as how people spend their time' ":
   Switzerland, the world's fifth-richest country, will be voting on this very issue on June 4. The referendum is on whether the government should guarantee every citizen a minimum income: